Index 
Debates
PDF 1816k
Wednesday, 12 March 2008 - Strasbourg OJ edition
1. Opening of the sitting
 2. Written declarations (submission): see Minutes
 3. Preparation of the European Council (Brussels, 13-14 March 2008) (debate)
 4. Statement by the President
 5. Voting time
  5.1. Request for waiver of the immunity of Mr Hans-Peter Martin (A6-0071/2008, Diana Wallis) (vote)
  5.2. Energy statistics (A6-0487/2007, Claude Turmes) (vote)
  5.3. Statistics on plant protection products (A6-0004/2008, Bart Staes) (vote)
  5.4. Common organisation of agricultural markets and specific provisions for certain agricultural products as regards the national quotas for milk (A6-0046/2008, Elisabeth Jeggle) (vote)
  5.5. CAP "Health Check" (A6-0047/2008, Lutz Goepel) (vote)
  5.6. The situation of women in rural areas of the EU (A6-0031/2008, Christa Klaß) (vote)
  5.7. Sustainable agriculture and biogas: review of EU legislation (A6-0034/2008, Csaba Sándor Tabajdi) (vote)
 6. Explanations of vote
 7. Corrections to votes and voting intentions: see Minutes
 8. Formal sitting - Celebration of the European Parliament's fiftieth anniversary
 9. Approval of the minutes of the previous sitting: see Minutes
 10. Announcement by the President
 11. The European Union's role in Iraq (debate)
 12. European code of conduct on arms exports (debate)
 13. Situation in Chad (debate)
 14. Announcement by the President
 15. Question Time (Council)
 16. Enhancing the quality of life of older people (debate)
 17. Taxation of unleaded petrol and gas oil (debate)
 18. Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund (debate)
 19. The particular situation of women in prison and the impact of the imprisonment of parents on social and family life (debate)
 20. Agenda for the next sitting: see Minutes
 21. Closure of the sitting


  

IN THE CHAIR: MR PÖTTERING
President

 
1. Opening of the sitting
  

(The sitting was opened at 9.05 a.m.)

 

2. Written declarations (submission): see Minutes

3. Preparation of the European Council (Brussels, 13-14 March 2008) (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The next item is the statements by the Council and the Commission on the preparation of the European Council in Brussels on 13-14 March 2008.

Mr Janez Lenarčič will speak on behalf of the Council.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) I am very pleased to be able to present to you the main topics for the European Council session that starts tomorrow. In accordance with the tradition of spring summits, this one will also be devoted to economic issues, especially the Lisbon Strategy, as well as to climate change, energy and financial stability.

The Presidency is looking forward to this exchange of opinions with the European Parliament and I can assure you that the opinions of Parliament in respect of the topics on tomorrow’s agenda will be taken into account.

We are all aware of the fact that the European Union is facing new challenges and that globalisation is bringing new opportunities, not only in the economic sphere but also in the social and cultural spheres. The European Union has already benefited from these opportunities. We are also aware of the fact that globalisation requires the European Union and its Member States to adapt and to search for real answers. The Council will devote its attention precisely to that.

The global economic environment is being tested at the moment. We have witnessed turbulent events in the financial markets. Recently we have witnessed a reduction in economic activity due to the recession in the United States and higher oil and commodity prices. Despite all this, the economic foundations of the European Union are still solid; however, under these conditions, we cannot stop and relax, but must continue with our reforms.

On this subject the European Council will evaluate the state of implementation of the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Employment. It will welcome the positive results and confirm that this strategy is working well. It will stress that we must now concentrate on implementation and, in this spirit, activate the new phase of the revised Lisbon Strategy.

In the area of information and innovation, the European Council will give new impetus to our efforts to introduce the so-called fifth freedom. This should eliminate the existing obstacles to the free flow of information by enhancing the cross-border mobility of researchers, students, scientists and university teaching staff. In our opinion, the fifth freedom should accelerate the transformation of the European Union into an innovative, creative and information-based economy.

To strengthen the competitiveness of companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, the European Council is planning measures which will enable them to develop and operate more satisfactorily. They should gain easier access to sources of financing, and incentives for innovation will also be improved. Special priority will also be given to the realisation of the plan for better legislation. Great attention will be paid to the social reach of the Lisbon Strategy, efforts to solve demographic challenges, the lack of qualifications and future political measures to increase social cohesion.

The spring summit will charge the Member States with the gradual implementation of the common principles of flexicurity by means of national regulations to strike a balance between flexibility and security on the labour market.

Allow me to move to another important topic to be discussed by the European Council. I am thinking of the challenges associated with climate change and energy. Last year we witnessed historic commitments in environment and energy policies. This year we must devote ourselves to their implementation. This target is an economic and environmental challenge of exceptional long-term importance. If we respond to it ambitiously, we will be able to report not only economic but also environmental success.

The legislative package proposed by the Commission is being considered by the Council at the moment. The first debates have reconfirmed the commitment of all the Member States to an ambitious response. Nevertheless, it is too early to expect that agreement on all aspects of this package will be reached at this summit. However, we expect it to be possible to reach agreement on the principles and guidelines for further consideration of this package. We anticipate that leaders will express a wish to maintain a general balance while paying attention to the complexity of the package in respect of its economic and financial effect.

The aim is to adopt the package as early as possible in 2009 or at any event before the mandate of the European Parliament expires. Our efforts will be successful if all the key partners start tackling the challenges of climate change. At the Copenhagen session of the climate change conference at the end of 2009, Europe should be the leading force in negotiations on ambitious and comprehensive agreement for the post-Kyoto period. This is one more reason to adopt the agreement as soon as possible in 2009.

Allow me to touch briefly on some other energy-related questions. An effective internal energy market is an essential condition for a reliable, lasting and competitive energy supply in Europe. We expect the European Council to call for speedy adoption of the agreement on the third package for the internal gas and electricity market. It will pay special attention to further measures relating to the reliability of supply and to external energy policy.

The European Council will place the efforts relating to climate and energy policy in the context of the development of new technologies and will increase investment in those technologies. This was recently defined in the Strategic Energy Technology Plan and should make a further contribution to the competitiveness of our companies.

The leaders of countries and governments will debate the conclusions of the joint report by the General Secretary, the High Representative, Mr Solana, and the Commission on the effects of climate change on international security. The complexity of climate change requires a more comprehensive harmonisation of policy and the European Council will call for continued study of the report in detail.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to touch on a third main point of the European Council’s agenda. It concerns the debate about the recent situation in international financial markets.

The situation in the international financial system is still uncertain. If we want to manage the risk of its effect on the real economy, we must direct the economic and financial policies of the European Union towards securing macroeconomic stability and implementing the structural reform plan. The Union’s response was prepared by Finance Ministers and some adjustments to the financial markets have been taking place since last autumn. The European Central Bank, national authorities, institutions of the European Union and financial institutions have adopted a number of measures to stabilise the situation. However, the responsibility for risk management still lies primarily with the individual financial institutions and investors.

The current situation has exposed the need for further strengthening of the framework for financial stability by means of greater credit supervision and improved tools for financial crisis management.

We expect the European Council to call for measures in four main areas: enhancing transparency for investors, markets and regulators, improving valuation standards, strengthening credit status and invigorating risk management in the financial sector and, last but not least, improving the operation of the market and the role of credit-rating agencies.

I would like to say a few words about state asset funds. Their long-term strategies have a beneficial role as capital providers that guarantee liquidity. However, the appearance of new players whose investment strategies and aims are not always totally transparent gives rise to some doubts about uneconomic practices. The recently published report by the Commission on state asset funds is an particularly valuable contribution to this debate. The European Council will probably agree with the need for a common approach by the European Union in accordance with the principles proposed in that report.

Let me stress once more the importance of cooperation with the European Parliament.

I would like to conclude my introduction with the thought that the spring session of the European Council, which will start tomorrow, will be devoted primarily to the realisation of the adopted commitments. The Presidency would like to accelerate the work of changing Europe into the most competitive economy. We are also faced with the important task of securing more stability with the help of our climate and energy policy.

In view of all these future challenges, we are hoping for truly creative cooperation with the European Parliament. If together we manage to make progress, European citizens will be able to see that the European Union exists to secure their future.

Our debate today and the discussion with the President of the European Parliament at the European Council session are undoubtedly two important factors in achieving this aim. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission. − Mr President, traditionally, the Spring European Council is the time when we review the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs, and this meeting will be more important than most. I would like to start by thanking the Slovenian Presidency for the very careful preparation of this spring summit.

Whatever other messages come out of the European Council this week, one should be clear: the Lisbon Strategy is working. No fewer than 6.5 million jobs have been created in the European Union in the last two years. Unemployment is at its lowest level for 25 years. The employment rate stands at 66%, getting close to the Lisbon target of 70%. What is more, job creation has gone hand in hand with productivity improvements. Productivity is now growing faster in the European Union than in the United States. These are no mean achievements.

Of course, the Lisbon process cannot shield us from negative economic developments whose origin lies outside Europe. In today’s inter-connected economy, that is impossible. We have had to trim our growth forecasts slightly for this year but we are still predicting growth of 2% – a very respectable performance.

The reforms already carried out have made our economies more resilient and flexible. This has left us better able to cope with external shocks.

Of course when conditions deteriorate it becomes all the more important to reassure those that feel threatened by an economic downturn. Europe needs to protect – but it must avoid the temptation of becoming protectionist.

A retreat into protectionism would be madness. Europe has been a huge winner from globalisation. With just 7% of the world’s population, Europe accounts for 30% of economic output. We account for seven of the ten most competitive nations in the world and, despite the rise of China and India, Europe remains the world’s largest trading power.

So Europe has every reason to approach the future with confidence. At the same time, we need to remain vigilant and cautious as to further developments. But our general line should be one of confidence. It will not be with pessimism that we will win the next economic battles.

This is what has inspired our reaction to the financial turmoil and our policy papers on the financial situation and on sovereign wealth funds, which are also on the table of the European Council. And we hope the European Council will support our proposals for a common European response to these challenges.

When I say that the Lisbon Strategy is working – and indeed it is – this does not mean that all is rosy and that we can rest on our laurels. I have said, and the Commission has said, time and time again, there is no room for complacency, especially when the economic situation seems to be deteriorating globally. A lot has to be done. In many regions of Europe unemployment remains a serious problem. There are special social categories that are very much affected. Rising energy and food prices are fuelling inflation, eating into the purchasing power, especially of those who depend on salaries and pensions for their income. So we need to continue our efforts.

But the Lisbon Strategy is not a static process. Far from it. The Commission Strategic Report sets out a series of new policy initiatives to make Europe even more resilient to economic turmoil, and to reinforce European efforts to shape and fully benefit from globalisation.

First, the most important area. The most important area is people. The key to overcoming poverty and inequality is driving up standards of education and training throughout the Union, making sure they are available to all. We have chosen to focus on one of the most vulnerable groups: early school-leavers. Today in Europe, one in six young people still leaves school without qualifications. One in five 15-year-olds does not have adequate reading skills. We cannot afford to allow their talents to go to waste. We must give young people the skills they need to realise their potential.

Another key pillar of the Lisbon Strategy we have returned to is research and innovation. To keep investment coming in, Europe must increase its relative attractiveness. We need a fifth freedom in Europe – the free movement of knowledge – to complement the other four freedoms on which the single market rests. We need to support open innovation but at the same time we need to ensure that knowledge is suitably protected by European patents and copyright.

Here I would like to welcome the adoption of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology yesterday by this House. This is a crucial moment for Europe. I would like to congratulate the European Parliament on this achievement and to thank you for the support you have given to my proposal, which I remember met with so much resistance when I put it forward three years ago. But, thanks to the good cooperation between Parliament and the Commission and the Member States, at the end we have got that agreement.

The third priority we have looked at is the business environment. We need a single market that works for Europe and in particular for SMEs, which are the backbone of our economy and the place where most jobs are created. That is why I will be asking the European Council tomorrow to endorse the idea of a Small Business Act to remove the impediments to the creation and the growth of SMEs. We have to keep in mind that the most important thing we can give to SMEs is a real internal market. This is the main difference between Europe and the United States of America, when it comes to SMEs, not because of specific legislation. A small company in the United States can start in one state but can immediately reach the entire internal market of the United States. In Europe it is still not like that. In Europe there are a lot of barriers in practical terms in going from one country to the next. So we really need to complete the internal market if we want to develop SMEs and if you want more growth and more employment in Europe.

(Applause)

The final Lisbon pillar we have revisited in our strategic report is energy and climate change, the defining challenge of our generation. It may be early days for the energy and climate package. But, as this House knows well, the momentum cannot be allowed to slip. The timing of an agreement is critical to its success. The earlier it comes, the lower the cost of adjustment, the bigger the benefits for early movers. And it is crucial to our number one goal: agreeing a comprehensive international agreement in Copenhagen next year. The more countries are involved and the closer their ambitions are to ours, the more we will have a level playing field. Nothing will bring this closer than the European Union showing that it means business by reaching agreement by the end of this year.

So I am really determined – the Commission is really determined – to work with the Member States so that we can have a basic political agreement on the energy internal market and on the climate protection and renewables package by the end of this year. Of course, we would also like to have the final legislative process concluded with the European Parliament at the beginning of next year.

It is of course important to link the climate protection strategy with the internal market for energy. We all know this is essential for our vision of competitive, secure and sustainable energy for Europe. I have been glad to see this dossier accelerating over the past weeks, and we are committed to finding ways of ensuring that the genuine market opening targeted in our original proposals is realised. The Commission remains fully committed to the realisation of ownership unbundling or its functional equivalent. The efforts of this House to be ready for a first reading by June are central.

Reform is not about rolling back valuable social advances or our social market economy; it is about equipping people to succeed in times of change, giving them the chance to take control of their own lives.

It is about modernising our social systems and securing their sustainability. Access, opportunity and solidarity must be the watchwords and will be at the heart of the renewed social agenda that the Commission will present before summer.

It is about a dynamic business environment where entrepreneurs are spending their time and resources on producing high-quality goods and services that people from all over the world want to buy, not on filling in unnecessary forms and having to battle every day against red tape.

It is also about transforming Europe into a low-carbon economy that is good for the environment and good for business. An economy that provides rising living standards but which does not cost the earth.

I am glad to see that the hard work of the last few years on the revamped Lisbon Agenda has helped foster a broad consensus on where we stand and where we want to go. This House has been a consistent source of critical support, and I want to thank you for this.

I was pleased to note the large degree of support for the Lisbon Strategy expressed in the European Parliament’s resolution of 20 February on the input for the 2008 Spring Council.

I have also seen the amendments that this House voted the same day to the broad economic policy guidelines. I agree with the issues you emphasise, and indeed they are already part and parcel of European Union policies on the basis of proposals from the European Commission: social inclusion, sustainability of public finance, the need to fight inflation, R&D, improved economic policy coordination, the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation, the external dimension of the internal market, and climate change and energy. So let us be clear: the Commission agrees with these priorities.

After consulting with various stakeholders, including the Member States, the Commission proposed in December to keep the guidelines of the strategy as they were, given their inbuilt flexibility, which allows adaptation to the evolving circumstances and accommodation of the priorities I have just cited and which the Commission endorses.

Keeping the guidelines sends a much-needed signal of stability and predictability to Member States and economic operators alike and, in doing so, reinforces the likelihood of delivery. As the Presidency of the Council just stated, the priority now is delivery. We have to deliver concrete results and we have to show consistency. This being said, after contacts with Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, the Commission tried to broker a compromise with the Council, suggesting adaptations to the narrative document accompanying the guidelines to reflect the issues highlighted by Parliament. In spite of the efforts of the Commission, the Council decided not to follow our compromise suggestion on the broad economic policy guidelines.

Anyway, I would like to reassure this House of the utmost importance that the Commission attaches to setting the right framework for Member States to deliver on our shared priorities – and the priorities are growth and jobs. When I say growth, it is growth that is sustainable from a social and environmental point of view. And jobs that are not only increasing in numbers but also in quality. Because we are sure that the renewed Lisbon Strategy focusing on jobs and growth, with its commitment to competitiveness and inclusiveness, is Europe’s best response to the challenges of globalisation.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Joseph Daul, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (FR) Mr President, Mr President-in-Office, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, the European Council’s spring priority will be to encourage European growth and relaunch the Lisbon Strategy for 2008-2010.

Our group feels it is of the utmost importance to give the EU every chance in the light of globalisation, and to reform it as the European Commission has proposed most energetically since 2005 under President José Manuel Barroso. This strategy is the best tool for dealing with the challenges facing us: globalisation, population and climate change.

We have a dual message here: pursuing the reforms undertaken, but also making the Lisbon Strategy more effective. Globalisation is an opportunity for Europe, but we will never accept unbridled free trade. That is the first challenge. We must protect the interests of the most vulnerable and promote our own social model. It is not time to change of direction, but rather to increase our efforts along the route already marked out. The Lisbon Strategy proposes an adapted response to each challenge.

In the face of competition from emerging nations, our future lies in research and innovation, support for entrepreneurs, lifelong training and reform of the job market. Europe can only be competitive if its products have added value in terms of quality and innovation. That is why I am calling for investment in research and innovation by the Member States on the largest possible scale.

Nor will growth and jobs emerge from development of SMEs. We must help them secure contracts and create jobs by reducing the administrative burden. Drawing up a Small Business Act on a European scale represents a step in the right direction. Education and training must be adapted to the needs of the economy. We can only maintain a competitive edge if our workforce has the right training. Teaching at schools and universities and continuous training must be reviewed, and certainly enhanced. In this respect we welcome the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007-2013. Wide-ranging reforms are also required for the job market, which must be more mobile, more flexible and also more secure. Businesses must be able to adapt to market requirements. Employees must be able to take advantage of retraining and adaptation opportunities.

The second challenge for Europe concerns its population. The ageing of the population is set to create a shortage of labour and pressure on social security systems. There must be better stimulation of the internal workforce, and better flexibility and adaptability for all generations to make it easier for them to reconcile their professional and family lives. We must also review our immigration policy, which must be European, and attract skills and know-how. The blue card proposal must be developed. We must also halt the brain drain. Our investment in education will have been in vain if researchers go abroad for better pay and working conditions.

The third and final challenge is climate change. We must implement a political system in line with a viable environment-friendly economy, and this means meeting the target of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Quite apart from the ecological advantages, this will also stand us in good stead for clean-technology markets. This is not insignificant. We must, however, set an example and our partners must do the same. A green policy must be accompanied by an external trade policy, which is not protectionist, but firm.

Ladies and gentlemen, we will only retain our values and our model of society if we have the courage to reform our society and tell our fellow citizens the truth. We can only make social progress if growth plays a part. Growth in turn can only play a part if we provide the means for it to do so. Just this once I wish to thank the President of the Commission, Vice-President Verheugen and all the Commissioners for their work. My thanks, ladies and gentlemen, may be considered in the context of a stable: the Barroso stable. A ration of oats compensates a job well done, but oats also provide energy for all the work that remains.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Martin Schulz, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin with an observation to the President of the Council. We have been informed, Sir, that the Mediterranean Union is to be discussed at tomorrow’s dinner. This is an idea of the French President, and at the talks over dinner – as well as hoping that all the participants enjoy their meal – I would ask you on behalf of our Group to clarify the following. If the idea is that the Mediterranean Union will build on, or upgrade, the Barcelona process into which we are pumping a good deal of money out of the European Union budget, then we are fully in favour of it. However, there need to be guarantees that such a policy will be pursued within the framework of the European Union.

If the Mediterranean Union is to be a success, it must be a Community policy within the framework of the existing EU institutions and policies. If, conversely, the Mediterranean Union were to become a divisive factor in the EU, then that would be a bad sign; it would moreover isolate France on the eve of the French Presidency, something we certainly do not want.

(Applause)

We therefore ask you to pass on this message to the participants at the summit.

Not altering the guidelines is one thing. The decision taken here on 20 February by a majority of 515 votes, namely to alter them, is quite a different matter. However, let us not argue about whether or not to alter the guidelines; let us discuss whether or not the substantive changes contained in our demand for the guidelines to be altered are practicable.

Mr Barroso, I criticised you last week for demonstrating a lack of commitment. I have heard in the meantime that some Members of your Commission – presumably after consultation with you – have taken up and put forward some of the ideas that we proposed here. Hence my criticism on this point is no longer relevant. However, Mr President of the Commission, having heard your speech today I must repeat the following: you have a guiding role in Europe. Your words to the Heads of State and Government tomorrow must encourage them to put what you have just been calling for into practice in the Member States. A good deal of what you say is true, naturally, but we need to address the real situation in Europe.

Allow me therefore to list five points which we believe remain crucial but have not been sufficiently flagged up or put into practice. Yes, progress has of course been made: unemployment is falling and productivity rising, yet job insecurity in Europe is rising too. That is also a fact. Of course more jobs are being created, but the jobs being created are not secure; they are ever more insecure. Pay rises in Europe are not keeping pace with company profits: in percentage terms, company profits are outstripping pay rises for workers.

(Applause)

This represents a social imbalance. We wish to improve social cohesion; we want more social protection. What is the point of a growing internal market, what is the point of a globally competitive Union, if the reality is this: a manufacturing company makes a 4% profit at a site and says ‘this is not enough for the shareholders; they want a 6% profit, so we are closing down the company at this site’. That strikes a blow against the basic confidence that the European Union needs. Our citizens must have confidence!

We are discussing unbundling in the energy sector, which might or might not be necessary. Let us talk for once about an unbundling that is taking place in the social policy field in Europe. There is a real danger that economic growth will become uncoupled from social security, which is why the guidelines need to be revised. We must make plain that whatever happens in the social policy field in the European Union goes hand in hand with economic progress.

We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the European Parliament this afternoon. According to the spirit that prevailed here in Strasbourg 50 years ago, the combination of economic development and social security was the basis for the European Community's growth and success. It is increasingly being put at risk.

You say that red tape must be cut for small and medium-sized enterprises. Yes! However, if red tape is cut and such companies move around Europe and then produce a case such as the Laval case, that strikes a blow against confidence in the European Union. For if freedom of movement can be used even by SMEs to roll back social progress, companies may stand to gain but their employees will not. Those employees, however, make up the vast majority of EU citizens.

Of course we need investment in education, training, research and technical innovation. That goes without saying. However, if, for the overwhelming majority of people, access to university or school is dependent on whether their parents have enough money in their wallets, then that is not a social policy. We need equal access for all citizens in the European Union, wherever they come from and whatever their family circumstances. If Europe is to survive, we must strengthen that potential, not only business potential. We must above all strengthen the potential of young people on this continent who need access to research, skills and training.

It undoubtedly strikes a blow against social confidence if any rich person in Europe can take their money coffers from one country to another without having to pay tax. That is another blow! You are therefore right to say that we need to regulate the EU's financial markets.

All of this, Mr President, argues in favour of a revision of the guidelines. Ultimately it matters little whether or not we call it that. If you convey this message to the Council tomorrow, we will be on your side; but we will only be on your side if you do so, Mr President!

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Graham Watson, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, this week’s Council takes place somewhere along the road between despair and hope. Although the major difficulties seem to be overcome, the Lisbon Treaty is not yet ratified, and questions linger over some of its provisions. Uncertainties abound about the political direction of Russia, Turkey and some of our neighbours in the Middle and Near East. Economic growth is slowing, haunted by the impact on GDP of past banking-sector crises in Sweden or Finland or Hungary or Spain, to say nothing of Argentina or Japan. It makes concerted action by our central banks this morning all the more welcome.

Beyond these considerations, the major global challenges of population growth and migration, of international crime and terrorism, of climate change and energy security continue to weigh on the minds of our policy makers. The urgent implementation of the Commission’s proposals to tackle climate change is incumbent on the Member States and on this House. The contours of the challenge are wide.

The report from the High Representative on the impact of climate change on security and stability shows us that there is a real and immediate concern, with the danger of military implications, including the use – sometimes discussed – of NATO as an instrument of energy security. Yet, blinded by short-term economic thinking, some of our Member States are already busy trying to limit their commitments to the Commission’s proposals on climate change. Look at the draft Council conclusions – paragraph 18 – and see some of the weasel words that have been inserted.

These twin dangers carry the threat of a retreat into a Fortress Europe. It is only by increasing internal solidarity that we can avoid the trap that Member States fall into, such as choosing South Stream over Nabucco. It is only by extending solidarity beyond our shores that we can enjoy peace around the Mediterranean, that Mare Nostrum, or around the Caspian Sea. Einstein was right when he said that peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding.

We also need to lead by example. I hope that in the Council conclusions we will see a commitment by national governments and the European Union to cut energy use in our own government and institutional buildings and in our car fleets, with binding targets to achieve that.

There have been stern warnings from the IPCC and others of the cost of inaction. We must act and we can because, despite the strong headwinds, the economic fundamentals of the euro area economy are strong, as the President of the Commission says, with domestic demand and exports continuing to grow – a sign that the Lisbon Strategy is working and must be pursued.

We hear what people are saying in this House. Mr Wurtz’s group was leading a protest about the threat to 12 000 jobs at Unilever. Mr Schulz wrote a letter to 27 Heads of State and Government calling for a change in economic direction, binding social standards and greater social protection. Yet these actions ignore the reality of what is happening in the global economy where, as more and more countries have opened their economies, the global ratio of trade to GDP has grown faster than total output. Half of our income now comes from trade and even developing countries now account for a third of world trade. The integration of the world economy is proving that it is not a zero-sum game. While Europe’s share of that economy may be shrinking, the overall growth means that we continue to create jobs and wealth. That is why we have created 6.5 million new jobs in the last two years. My group has long argued this and we are pleased that it has been recognised by Mr Jacques Delors and Mr Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in the manifesto that they drafted for the PSE Group, which was adopted in Oporto some 15 months ago.

Mr Schulz, if there is an ostrich in this room, it is not to be found in seat 21 [Mr Barroso’s seat]; it is to be found in seat 6 [Mr Schulz’s seat]. I think that explains why the PSE Group has lost its former role as the motor of this institution.

The European Council must show more urgency in achieving its research and development targets. It must boost the market for venture capital and the mobility of researchers to foster innovation. It must improve transparency and supervision in the banking sector to ward off danger. Mr Lenarčič, you must pay attention to social cohesion and environmental stability but you must do so secure in the knowledge that markets are the most powerful tool we have to improve living standards.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Brian Crowley, on behalf of the UEN Group. – Mr President, I would like to welcome the President-in-Office as well as the President of the Commission to discuss what our elders, wise men and some would say our betters – although I do not necessarily agree with that – will be discussing during the summit over the coming days.

Rather than going back over everything that my colleagues have said, because I can agree with most of the contributions, I would say that it is not one or the other but rather a combination of all: trying to drag the best ideas out of all the different proposals that have been put forward and utilising them as the unique model which Europe must follow. I say that because our experience over the last 30 years, and in particular the last 20 years, has shown that it is not either one or the other. You cannot have economic growth without proper social cohesion and social protection. You cannot have protection of the environment without proper investment in new resources, information technology and research and development to create the innovative ways of dealing with the problems we are now facing.

Likewise, you cannot solve unemployment simply by saying that we want more jobs. You have to encourage companies and businesses to create the jobs, to invest the money and to create the wealth. Only so much can be done by public services, whether it is public investment for infrastructure or whatever else. Ultimately it comes down to businessmen and businesswomen in small and medium-sized enterprises – which employ 62% of all the people employed within the European Union – investing more money in creating more and more jobs.

That requires a certain amount of flexibility. However, flexibility should not be a byword for a diminution of standards or of the protection of workers’ rights. Likewise, you cannot use one bad example, like the Laval case – bad enough as it is – to say that everybody else must be controlled to the most rigorous level. It must be used as a starting point, not as the end game. Look at the challenges that we face in the European Union today: our lack of investment in proper research and development. The best and the brightest from European universities and institutions are leaving Europe to do their research and further work in America, Japan and now even China. And look at the relocation of European industry and business: it is not to other countries within Europe, which was the case 10 or 12 years ago; it is now outside the European Union, to India, Pakistan, Malaysia and other countries.

What we really need to be focusing on now is not just where the sudden subprime market difficulties are creating short-term difficulties today. If we look back over the last 25 years of the economic markets, they go in cycles: there are troughs and there are highs. What we have to ensure is that the foundation stones that we put down today will be as strong in 15 years’ time as they are today, that they will continue to deliver economic growth and that they will continue to deliver security of energy supply. The President of Estonia told us here yesterday that Russia is now acting like a superpower, to use its superpower status in oil and gas to influence foreign policy. We must ensure that there is solidarity within the European Union to face up to and to meet that challenge.

Our best and most valuable asset is our young people. If we do not invest properly in education and training and give them skills and opportunities in the European Union, we risk losing them.

Finally, let me say to the President-in-Office that I want to pay a small tribute to the young people in Slovenia for their work during Slovenia’s Presidency – particularly those in the protocol section – and the welcome and the image they give of Slovenia as a country.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Rebecca Harms, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by taking up what Mr Schulz said. I would emphasise once again that we are not making an honest assessment of the Lisbon Strategy if we ignore the fact that, while Europe is indeed a major winner from globalisation, the winnings are very unevenly distributed. In addition, employment growth has by no means resolved the problem of the working poor; on the contrary, despite increased employment and increased growth, we also have increased poverty caused by job insecurity.

We in the European Parliament called explicitly in our resolution for the issue of sectoral minimum wages to be addressed by the Commission and the Council, and for the Commission to assess the results of the Lisbon Strategy differently in view of the problem of growing social marginalisation. This poverty indicator is an integral part of our resolution, and I find it regrettable that neither the Council nor the Commission has so far responded to these decisions of the European Parliament.

(Applause)

Turning to the subject of climate and energy, quite frankly I was shocked when a German Government representative declared in Brussels, just a few days before this spring summit, that environment policy ought to steer clear of industrial and economic policy. This pronouncement was made by a State Secretary in the German Ministry of the Environment, Mr Machnik, who is no doubt known to my German colleagues. Germany's Environment Ministry obviously has no real understanding of what sustainability actually means.

It is hardly surprising, consequently, that the German Government continues to oppose CO2 limits on vehicles, that it is not in favour of the single market for energy as proposed by the Commission and that it is attempting to organise an alliance against the ‘new definitions of emissions trading’.

I note with regret that, in these negotiations, Germany has partially forgotten what was signed and sealed at last year's spring summit. Some of its current policies are totally at odds with the outcomes of last year's summit. I am not certain, for example, that the new priority attached to renewable energy – which appears so uncontroversial – really is sufficient to ensure sustainability in the field of energy and the climate.

The Mediterranean Union also raises questions in my mind. One sometimes gets the impression that, just like those major gas deals with Russia – I mean North Stream and South Stream – this Mediterranean Union is further proof that a uniform EU policy on energy and security of energy supply is simply not possible. If the Council fails to tackle this problem, it will fall short of its obligations.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gabriele Zimmer, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the European Parliament today. This should surely be an opportunity for the forthcoming summit to grant this House the right of initiative at long last!

I furthermore believe that the European Parliament’s 50th anniversary is the right occasion for me and my Group to make clear that neither the Council nor the Commission should expect this House to be docile and indulgent and full of adulation in future. It will still be our duty to stand up for those people in the European Union who are often ignored: the 70 million or more people in the EU who are living in or at risk of poverty, including 19 million children.

If, as we understand, the European Council is to welcome the Commission’s strategic report on the renewed Lisbon Strategy and congratulate itself on its own success, then it should devote rather more than just a few lines to those EU citizens, those children, who derive no benefit at all from the achievements of the Lisbon Strategy.

The direction and priorities of the strategy are wrong, as are the resulting policies! Mr Watson, it is not our protests against the aggressive global conduct of Unilever, Thyssen-Krupp, Nokia and many others that are unrealistic, but the refusal of the Commission and Council to confront the global corporations that are acting so aggressively and attach the appropriate priority to protecting the employees concerned and those who are socially excluded.

I can only agree with the European Anti-Poverty Network when it complains that the fight against poverty, social exclusion and a growing social divide is still not being tackled and backed up with the necessary clarity and determination.

The Network addressed four questions to the spring summit on 10 March, and the European Parliament should specifically endorse these questions. How precisely do you propose to strengthen the social dimension of the Lisbon Strategy? What precise actions are proposed to meet the commitment ‘to make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty’? Given that 18.9 million of those who are officially poor (78 million) are in employment, what measures are proposed to address in-work poverty? What measures are proposed to ensure that rising energy prices do not threaten social cohesion and social inclusion? These four questions are fundamental, I believe, if economic growth really is to be sustainable in social and environmental terms.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jens-Peter Bonde, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – Mr President, President of the Council and President of the Commission, together with my Irish colleague, Kathy Sinnott, I have made a proposal for a new protocol to be amended to the Lisbon Treaty before its final approval. It will outlaw a revolutionary decision by the European Court of Justice dated 18 December 2007.

A Latvian company wanted to build a school in Sweden with Latvian workers being paid much less than Swedish workers for similar jobs. Swedish trade unions established a blockade. This action has now been deemed illegal by the European Court of Justice. They will only allow the Treaty principle on free movement of goods and services to be moderated by the other fundamental principle of the right to strike if there is a risk to public security, order or health. A normal salary does not count. Collective bargaining does not count. The Scandinavian flexisecurity model, the voluntary cooperation between trade unions and employers, can be scrapped.

Foreign workers in foreign companies in Ireland may now work for the Irish minimum salary of EUR 9 an hour. It is illegal for Irish trade unions to act against this Court judgment except in relation to the minimum wage. It is even worse in my country, where we do not have a minimum wage.

This Court judgment is a disaster and must be annulled by a new wording in the Treaties or a legally binding protocol. You can see our proposal on my website. I urge the Slovenian Presidency and the President of the Commission to raise the question at the summit.

I have a question for the Commission and Council: When will we have a consolidated Treaty so that we can understand the content?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jana Bobošíková (NI). – (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, I think that at the summit tomorrow the heads of states should wake up and admit that lowering the European production of CO2 by 20% and increasing renewable energies to 20% in 12 years’ time is a utopian idea. If we impose further restrictions on European industries, we will jeopardise both the competitiveness of companies and employment, and in the end investments will shift towards countries that do not raise climate-related obstacles.

In addition to that, instead of giving credence to the nonsense about crowds of African and Asian refugees are invading Europe because the climate is forcing them to leave their homes, we should give a thought to our policies that made Europe a target for the migrating poor instead of the skilled workers.

I am convinced that we should focus on innovative processes that will reduce energy-intensive production. We should give preference to, and spend funds on, expert brains instead of green brains. We should also shake off the unfounded fear of nuclear reactors. If the Council wants to act in the interest of citizens, countries should invest in research, development and education precisely in the field of nuclear energy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Giles Chichester (PPE-DE). – Mr President, this European Council takes place with great economic uncertainty in the air. The summit will consider an update of the Lisbon Agenda, which has only two years to run. It is vital that heads of government do not indulge in self-congratulation.

There are real threats to free trade and to the fundamental principles of free and open competition that must underpin the European Union. In that context I was delighted to read the recent remarks of the Commission President in the Financial Times, in which he raised the ugly spectre of growing protectionism in Europe. When asked if such sentiment was on the rise, he said, ‘Yes, and I fear this rise is not only in Europe but all over. Political forces in Europe that were traditionally pro-market are today – let us put it elegantly – more prudent’.

So there are rising protectionist threats, and not least when we hear the rhetoric from across the Atlantic from two of the front-runners in the presidential race. Let us be clear, Europe has much more to gain from globalisation than it has to lose. Indeed, The Economist recently lamented the anti-globalisation language used by some European leaders. The reality, it said, was that European citizens are winners from globalisation, with cheap imports, low inflation and low interest rates. And, notwithstanding the emergence of India and China, the EU’s share of world exports rose, albeit slightly, between 2000 and 2006.

In France, where protectionist rhetoric is perhaps the most marked, a recent report stated that only 3.4% of jobs that were lost in 2005 could be blamed on so-called offshoring. So we should get all this in perspective and back the Commission President in his strong stance on the matter. Europe will only succeed in international markets if its improves its competitiveness, radically reforms its labour markets and cracks down hard on bad business regulation, both at EU level and national level.

The Economist asked the question: Will today’s politicians ever be frank enough to tell the people that globalisation is good for Europe and for them? President Barroso has been frank; it is time for EU leaders to back him.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Robert Goebbels (PSE). (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the real world has caught up with the European Union. At the 2007 spring summit, the EU27 was still free to dream of an ideal world. Europe was on target again in terms of growth; unemployment was falling; employment was on the increase; public deficits were going down; the European Council was introducing a set of visionary targets in connection with the fight against climate change; and at the Bali Conference Europe was set to act as a guide for the rest of the world.

In August, however, the subprime crisis erupted and continues to create havoc. After the banks and insurance companies, investment funds have now entered the turmoil. In showing their disdain for moral contingencies, the central banks have become the speculators’ flame-quellers. The leading central banks have again been forced to inject billions into the financial circuits in order to ‘deal with the pressure on liquid assets’ as one says discreetly in the world of high finance.

It is the general economy that picks up the tab. A general tightening on credit has slowed up economic growth. Recession looms; the ECB urges moderation on employees whose spending power is continuously whittled away by higher prices for energy and food. On the other hand, the failed geniuses of finance and industry are rewarded not quite so moderately. The dollar is at a record low and a barrel of crude oil at a record high. Growth forecasts are increasingly revised downwards.

Despite this changing context, President Barroso clings to the existing integrated guidelines as though they were engraved in Portuguese marble. The Bali summit did not line up with the noble targets proposed by the Europeans. The Americans, the Japanese, the Canadians and even the Australians, despite their new status as Kyoto signatories, did not want any compromising targets; nor did the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians or the Russians. The roadmap meant to lead to the 2009 Climate Conference in Copenhagen is the flimsiest of documents. The Commission, however, has no wish to adjust the decisions taken at the 2007 summit to the real problems now emerging.

A number of reasonable voices are nevertheless making themselves heard within the Commission. President Barroso speaks out against the illusions of an industry-free Europe. Vice-President Verheugen insists clear flexible decisions must be taken that will not help deindustrialise Europe. Industrialists in the energy sector would, of course, have no problem with CO2 certificates being put under the hammer. Since their customers are putty in their hands, they will simply pass on the extra cost to them. In the steel and aluminium sectors and other energy-intensive industries operating in a global market, oncosts will not be reflected in prices, but will certainly affect the only adjustment variable remaining: employment. This option would rapidly cause relocation to countries where social regulations and climate regulations are less strict than in Europe. The gain for the world’s climate would obviously be nil, but the social cost to Europeans would be unbearable.

The 2007 summit took some courageous decisions, but these did not square with the realities of the EU27. Achievement of the biofuels target alone would do the environment more harm than good, and consumers would certainly lose out. The next summit must adjust these decisions to the new economic realities worldwide and define an environmental policy that does not operate under the illusion that the EU alone can bear the burden of the fight against climate change.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janusz Onyszkiewicz (ALDE). – (PL) Mr President, energy security ought of course to be one of the key features of the European Union’s energy policy. Energy security can only be achieved through joint action, working in cooperation with others, and only when the European Union speaks with one voice. This is not the case regarding the Nabucco pipeline, a project of strategic importance for Europe.

In my view, this matter should be raised at the forthcoming Council, and the latter should ensure that the Union acts as a single entity where this pipeline is concerned. It should also be borne in mind that a second pipeline, whose construction is supported by several European countries, may mean that it will not be possible to pursue the Nabucco project for practical reasons. There simply will not be enough gas available.

I therefore have a question to put to the European Union. Would it not be possible simply to support this pipeline with European Union funds, in order to improve the Union’s energy security? Similar action was taken for the Galileo project, which was considered to be of strategic importance.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ryszard Czarnecki (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to remind the House that the Lisbon Strategy, whose praises were sung so loudly by President Barroso, was supposed to enable our economy to catch up with that of the United States. Unfortunately, everything we see, hear and experience indicates that not only have we failed to catch up with the United States, but we are also losing out to Asia. Instead of heralding success, therefore, it needs to be clearly stated that in pursuing the Lisbon Strategy the Union is running a race it has absolutely no intention of winning.

If the desire really was to make Europe’s economy more dynamic and effective, the European Commission would not have introduced barriers hindering our economic growth, as it has done in recent years. I refer to the restrictions on the freedom to provide services across the territory of the European Union and to restrictions on the freedom of employment. Either we take the declarations seriously, therefore, or we simply put on a show, presenting slogans and swearing blind about reality, whilst actually taking action that has the opposite effect and impedes development.

The Commission is responsible for over-regulating the economy, for an excessive quantity of directives and concessions and for everything involved in making the economy unduly dependent on bureaucracy, including the European bureaucracy. As regards combating climate change, notably the carbon dioxide issue, we do not wish the cost of this effort to represent an undue burden on the economies of the new Member States. Allowing that to happen would amount to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Claude Turmes (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, the Socialist Group is of course right to say that wealth distribution in Europe has not worked well over the past few years, and of course Robert Goebbels is right to demand a different approach to speculation and the squandering of billions of euro.

Nevertheless, I would caution against playing off social affairs against environmental affairs, as the Socialists and others in this House are once again attempting to do. We are currently faced with the existence of a lobby, a lobby of steel barons, aluminium barons and chemical industry barons.

What do these men want? As a rule they are men! These men want to undermine the ‘polluter pays’ principle. It is clearly unacceptable for the very industries which pollute the most now to be exempted from the pollution tax, and the auctioning of CO2 allowances is nothing other than that. What would happen next? What would happen is that there would be no modernisation of the steel, aluminium and chemical industries internationally.

We therefore need the following model. First, there must be 100% auctioning. Second, these funds must be hypothecated so that, as happened in Denmark in the early 1990s, the proceeds from a CO2 tax levied on industry are reinvested in the modernisation of the steel industry and other energy-intensive companies in Europe. Third – and I think we shall have to work with the French Presidency on this point – we naturally need penalties for environmental dumping outside the single market, on other continents.

It is a misconception, however, that every steel plant outside Europe has poorer environmental and energy standards than steel plants located in Europe today. That is not true, and so any such sanctions will only work if they are transparent. Social and environmental policies operating hand-in-hand: that is the future.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Eva-Britt Svensson (GUE/NGL). – (SV) Mr President, the picture presented by the Commission and the Council today conveys an entirely different reality to that which the majority of our citizens live with, a reality in which poverty and gaps between different groups have increased. We are told that more people have found jobs, but we are not told what kind of jobs have increased. They are mostly low-wage jobs which do not enable people to provide for themselves and their children. They are casual jobs with insecure conditions of employment. This is not the model of society which we on the left want or accept.

We know that there are other paths to follow, paths that lead to solidarity and justice and a society for all our citizens. Any prospect of a social Europe was brought to earth when the European Court of Justice ruled in the Vaxholm and Viking Line cases. The judgments made it absolutely clear that, in the EU, free movement and the demands and interests of the internal market are more important than the interests of employees. The outcome of the judgments is social dumping. Workers from different countries are played against one another. Serious employers who want to pay decent wages and offer reasonable working conditions are outcompeted. The Court of Justice leaves no room for doubt. But why do the Commission and the Council remain passive in this matter? Why approve a Treaty which further strengthens the interests of the market against those of working people?

The Vaxholm judgment gave three unequivocal answers: firstly, that the Member States may not decide on labour-market matters; secondly, that employees may not resort to disputes which disrupt the internal market – thus the Court takes away from workers their only effective means of defending the principle of equal pay for equal work; thirdly, companies which establish themselves in EU countries with lower levels of pay get the right to send employees to other countries to work for the same low wages.

Trade union organisations, political organisations, non-governmental organisations and millions of ordinary people have recognised the possibility of a People’s Europe, but when will the Commission and the Council also recognise it?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Johannes Blokland (IND/DEM). – (NL) President Barroso has spoken about inflation. Inflation is a spectre that once again haunts the Member States. At 3.2%, it is currently well above the 2% target, and this is a worrying development, a development that is stimulated by pay increases, as in the Netherlands. Last year’s debate in preparation for the spring summit was dominated by the reforms to the welfare state. That was perfectly reasonable. The welfare states had become untenable. Several Member States have dealt advantageously with this and are now in a better position.

However, Mr President, the outlook is not good. Inflation is too high; the cost of raw materials is on the increase; and recently the central banks have had to avert a credit crisis in the financial markets with extensive loans. Consumer confidence now has to recover.

Last week Mr Trichet said that, in accordance with the monetary policy stance, the European Central Bank would continue in its aim of maintaining stability, and the European Central Bank must do independently what the new French boss of the International Monetary Fund also claims. It is, however, at the discretion of the Member States to support this policy by ensuring wage increases are controlled.

Can the President of the Council indicate which additional measures the Council will take in order to turn the tide? Can we expect measures to check the already over-accelerated wage increase? Thank you very much.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andreas Mölzer (NI). – (DE) Mr President, it appears that one topic for discussion at the spring summit will be the Mediterranean Union, for which neither the structure nor the framework nor even the funding has been clarified as yet. This discussion might perhaps sideline other economic issues such as implementation of the Lisbon Strategy or how to stimulate the economy in the face of the international financial crisis.

First of all we had the Baltic Council, then a Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Marine regions are therefore working together in a variety of ways. However, the argument that a Mediterranean Union will strengthen governmental cooperation, with a view to countering illegal immigration, is a specious one in my opinion.

It would also be wrong to provide further financial support for African states under the mantle of promoting neighbourhood relations, without laying down conditions. African countries of origin and transit for innumerable economic refugees have, after all, been pocketing vast quantities of development aid, often without showing the slightest willingness to take back their own nationals. In general, therefore, financial assistance must be coupled with the conclusion of an agreement to take back illegal refugees or packages of measures to prevent illegal migration.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marianne Thyssen (PPE-DE). – (NL) Mr President-in-Office, Mr President of the Commission, Mr President of Parliament, ladies and gentlemen, if we look at the agenda of the spring summit we find an almost complete list of the socio-economic and ecological challenges facing our generation: that is, if we want to take responsibility for those who come after us in a time of globalisation, climate change, technological advances and an ageing demographic.

Without doubt we are responsible for the objectives and the approaches necessary to achieve this, and of course we expect everyone to do what they have said they will do and that sufficient pressure will be exerted at all political levels to achieve results.

As group coordinator for the Lisbon Strategy I want to say how much we value the fact that the Commission has presented the Community Lisbon Programme. Each of the 10 points gets our full support, and the same goes for the announcement of the Small Business Act. This is on condition, however, that the Small Business Act pays more than just lip service to SMEs. This Act, Mr President, must therefore become more than the SME Charter, which was approved in Santa Maria da Feira some years ago. To do its job, the Small Business Act must ensure that the best possible operating environment is created for SMEs, and that applies to very small, small and medium-sized enterprises.

To this end, one condition is absolutely necessary and must apply at every stage, to substantive measures or mere simplification measures: think small first. Take the SME as the point of departure and not as an exception, and let us take this as a binding criterion so that it at last becomes more than just a slogan. It is only in this way that we will truly succeed in getting through to the firms that form the bulk of our business environment, but, more importantly, that provide the greatest number of jobs and the jobs that are currently being created.

It would be a very good thing, Members of the Commission and of the Council, if tomorrow at the spring Council this binding principle could be agreed upon once and for all. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Harlem Désir (PSE). (FR) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, on the eve of the spring summit, the economy is in turmoil, markets are deregulated, stock markets are crashing, growth is falling. That is international capitalism for you, creating wealth or destroying value at the whim of the markets, speculative bubbles, financial derivatives and crazed traders who, by the way, are merely doing what they are asked to do, i.e. obtain the maximum profit in the minimum time.

However, though the markets are that way, no human society can live like that. At any rate, it is this phenomenon that may give Europe its very meaning in this globalised market: a Europe that obviously cannot completely escape this turmoil, a Europe that is itself one of the main players in globalisation, often to its benefit, but that largely finds in globalisation its meaning and vocation to counterbalance crazed capitalism through public regulation, economic stabilisation, active public policies to support growth in the real economy, support for public and private investment in research, innovation, and European infrastructure. The monetary policy, for instance, ought to protect stability, which it does, but it also ought to stimulate growth and adjust parity in the best possible fashion to defend our exports, although as things stand today this is unfortunately not yet the case.

Finally and above all, our group stresses that the EU must counterbalance this destabilised high-finance economy with effective social protection, solid public services and guaranteed social rights for workers.

Mr President, Europe must now take much more action to anticipate and protect: it cannot merely act as an internal market within the vast overall market. It must be more socially aware. That is also the way to recover the support and trust of its citizens.

We now support the Lisbon Strategy, a strategy fundamentally based on these three pillars, which you have already mentioned here, but your words must be matched by action, by real EU policies; otherwise your social intentions will remain a dead letter.

That is why we have called for a revision of the guidelines since they can be used to pilot the project. We specifically ask you, however, for it is the substance that is important here, to relaunch the European social agenda. There must be, for instance, a Commission reaction to the Laval case. It must use its powers of initiative to propose a revision of the Posting of Workers Directive. There must be a truly ambitious revision of the European Works Councils Directive to allow social dialogue in major groups facing restructuring to be utilised effectively and in a timely fashion. There must be a revision, a real adaptation of the Working Time Directive to combat opt-outs and abuse of excessive working hours. The Temporary Work Directive must be adopted in order to combat casual employment. You must launch an ambitious lifelong learning programme so that this fifth pillar, this fifth fundamental freedom, is not just reserved only for an elite, but enables all people to fulfil effectively their own potential as workers to enable them to adapt to changes in the economy and the job market.

Mr President of the Commission, this is our message: use your power of initiative to help the Council to adopt an ambitious programme for a social Europe.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lena Ek (ALDE). – (SV) Mr President, it is difficult to take responsibility for Europe’s future. We must cope with globalisation and the competition to which it gives rise. We must cope with difficult questions of demography, with a pensioner boom and a declining population going forward to 2020, the year we are to achieve the environmental and climate goals we have set, i.e. the 20-20-20 targets. We must ensure that we have economically sustainable development in Europe. I am glad, when we discuss matters arising from the Lisbon Strategy, that it represents a comprehensive approach to sustainable economic development, economic growth, environmental responsibility and socially responsible policy.

We see that combined efforts are giving results. That is good. We also see that a combined strategy is of the utmost importance. The cooperation that has been launched between the European Parliament and the national parliaments is immensely important.

I would like to draw attention to the new area which has been included in this year’s resolution, namely transport policy, on which much depends when it comes to the climate targets and growth. We have a situation in which we shall be able to create more jobs in Europe through an effective, sustainable and environmentally compatible transport policy.

The fact is that the various policy areas hang together. There is no point in making pronouncements on the 20-20-20 targets in climate policy when they are not also reflected in the Council’s resolution on the Lisbon Strategy. I therefore hope that, when we see the results of the spring summit, we find a comprehensive policy which responds to both economic growth and the climate policy. That, my friends, is a challenge!

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mario Borghezio (UEN). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the forthcoming European Council must take a serious look at the global financial turbulence.

Euroland seems to be reeling under pressure from waves of money fleeing from Italian, Greek, Spanish and French bonds to take refuge in German ones. The spread between Italian and German bonds has risen to more than 63 basis points, as it did in 1999 when Italy seemed unlikely to be able to comply strictly with the Maastricht criteria.

Only yesterday, at a sale of Treasury bonds in Italy, there were very few bids. The Telegraph reported on 6 March that a major investment bank, which speculated by means of arbitrage between the buying and selling rates for Italian bonds and credit derivatives, had been forced to liquidate all of its bonds. The Italian Treasury had to intervene to support the value of the bonds.

There have for some time been rumours in the world of high finance about Italy exiting from the euro. Is there any truth in this? Europe is weak, and the national governments need to redouble their efforts to tackle such grave problems, instead of the tired, pointless measures proposed by technocrats in Brussels; the governments must intervene as necessary rather than resorting to outdated solutions such as tax cuts and injections of liquidity.

You should listen instead to the voice of the people and local communities! Let us return to the real economy and give workers a stake in the share ownership of their companies!

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marie Anne Isler Béguin (Verts/ALE). (FR) Mr President, Mr President-in-Office, spring summits leave a bad taste in my mouth. It is true that we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Europe, and it is good to remember these things. However, gentlemen, I also remember the Gothenburg summit, which was an enormous ecological victory because the Heads of State or Government reached an agreement to hold the spring summit to take stock of the sustainable development of our EU policies in the fields of environmental health, health and social integration.

In Europe, for example, Mittal-Arcelor, the energy-intensive organisation par excellence, is set to cut 600 jobs amid monster profits, and the EU is poised to give it free greenhouse gas emission quotas. Our citizens are now distraught and our young people anguished by the legacy we are bequeathing them.

Gentlemen, you are announcing a revolution when you propose, for instance, that greenhouse gas emissions ought to be reduced by 20%. We know this is well below what has to be done. For example, Lester Brown, who visited us last week, was choked by emotion as he told us emissions would have to be reduced by 80% between now and 2020 if there is to be any chance of reversing the trend. Therefore, gentlemen, I do not believe in your project: it is well below what is required, and is totally inadequate for the environmental crisis endangering the entire planet.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dimitrios Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL). – (EL) Mr President, now the European Parliament is celebrating its 50th anniversary, I was expecting the representatives of the Commission and the Council to come here with greater sincerity and modesty. Instead of mutually congratulating and praising each other, and embellishing reality, I should like them to talk about their failures and about the problems preoccupying European citizens.

During the past years social inequalities have increased and poverty has increased. As for the Lisbon targets – they are the ones you set, Mr Barroso, but you are not listening to me because you are talking to your colleague – you forget the social cohesion and environmental protection targets, Mr Barroso! In Kosovo, you are forgetting the UN and international law!

As for you, representatives of the Council, rather than ambitiously promote the Barroso package on climate change, you are trying to waste it. This is what I was expecting you to say, rather than congratulate each other.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Philip Claeys (NI). – (NL) I am very surprised that the situation in Turkey has not been placed at the top of this week’s agenda. It has hitherto always been stated that the process of negotiation with Turkey would take place in parallel with the progress of Turkish reforms.

Well, the reverse has proved to be the case. The reform process has almost completely ground to a standstill, but the negotiations simply go ahead. All we can tell is that Turkey is piling up the provocations. Freedom of expression is formally obstructed under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The Turkish Government had agreed to scrap or at the very least reform this article by the end of the year, but nothing has been done. It also laconically let it be known that there was a higher priority, namely the suppression of the ban on headscarves in universities. The Islamisation and the stealthy phasing-out of the current state apparently take precedence.

Then the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr Erdogan, went to Germany to remind the Turks living there not to adapt too well and to demand the establishment of Turkish universities in Europe. Mr Erdogan conducted himself like a victorious commander coming to inspect his troops in occupied territory.

Furthermore, Turkey has been bombing Northern Iraq for weeks. Approximately 10 000 troops have invaded the country. It is almost as if Croatia, another candidate Member State, were to attack Montenegro. Of course that would be absurd, and nobody in the European Union would accept something like that, and yet apparently Turkey can do what it wants.

My question therefore, Mr President, is how long will the European Union continue to behave like a sort of shrinking violet in the negotiations with Turkey?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  João de Deus Pinheiro (PPE-DE).(PT) Mr President-in-Office of the Council, Mr President of the Commission, it should be noted that since 2005, thanks to the current Commission, the Lisbon Strategy has shaken off its previous state of apathy. I must therefore say to the President-in-Office of the Council that it is vital, as with the single currency and internal market, to give more responsibility to the Commission and allow it to be the pivot of the Lisbon Strategy, instead of continuing with the idea of intergovernmentalism, which has got us nowhere.

As for the education/research/innovation triangle, the simplistic solution of indiscriminately injecting money into research must be avoided. Rather than scientific articles or fanciful ideas, we need better innovation, which is something quite different. Innovation requires a culture that values entrepreneurship and those individuals prepared to take risks, who are precisely the ones who know how to make money from knowledge and not the other way round, in other words, throwing money around indiscriminately to see if knowledge appears.

As regards education, it is fundamental that we also create a culture of competitiveness and directed creativity. We should firmly reject the easy solutions that hinder the future success of both individuals and companies.

As a result, Mr President, I welcome the Commission’s proposals to encourage entrepreneurship, directed research, links between schools and business, creativity in the education system, demand and competitiveness. However, more than this, I would say that the drive for innovation and the Lisbon Strategy can be summed up in two words: what Europe, business and universities must do is create value.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Udo Bullmann (PSE). – (DE) You have stated before this House, Mr President of the Commission, that you have moved closer to the European Parliament’s way of thinking. My specific question is this: in what respect has this move towards Parliament's stance led to any new emphasis, or to the setting of a single new priority in the economic and social policy guidelines that are to be adopted by the Council over the next couple of days?

I take a different view. I think you are using the Council, which was not prepared to take up various ideas, as an excuse. I think the Council is using as an excuse the messages that you, Mr Barroso, have been sending out for months, namely that no changes are needed. I believe that this team effort has produced a policy-blocking cartel with a shared mantra: business as usual. That is not, however, in the interest of the European people, it is not in the interest of European firms and it is not in the interest of the European Parliament, which has issued many resolutions calling for greater attention to be paid to the economic, social and environmental circumstances in the European Union.

As our own studies have shown, we are falling behind in terms of research and development. We have remained at a level well behind that of the US. We have been at this same level since the early 1980s, and in the meantime we have not only been left behind by Japan but we are being overtaken by the Chinese, whose R&D expenditure in the economic sector is now greater than that of companies in the European Union. When will you waken up? When will you adopt a positive attitude to the quality of finance and investment in the European Union, for the sake of the EU population? It is high time!

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Fiona Hall (ALDE). – Mr President, at last year’s Spring Council, EU leaders signed up to a ‘20% by 2020’ target for energy efficiency, but delivery of this target remains sluggish. Parliament’s report on the energy efficiency action plan exposed major failures in implementation of energy efficiency legislation. In January, the Commission’s first assessment of national energy efficiency action plans spoke of the gap between the political commitment to energy efficiency and actual delivery. Energy efficiency underpins all the EU’s targets on CO2 emissions, on renewables, on security of supply and on the Lisbon Agenda – all the things we have been discussing this morning.

Therefore, I would be grateful if the President-in-Office of the Council and the President of the Commission would indicate what this year’s Spring Council intends to do to improve performance on energy efficiency.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mirosław Mariusz Piotrowski (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, the aims of the Lisbon Strategy were defined eight years ago. The Lisbon Strategy’s priority was to ensure that Europe developed at a faster rate than the United States, whilst also increasing sustainable employment. Failure on both counts has been officially recorded. There is clear lack of cohesion between the Lisbon Strategy and actual implementation of the common agricultural policy, for example.

One instance of this is the reform of the market in sugar. In many cases, the European Commission has been pressing ahead with the reforms without considering the relevant social context. By way of example I should like to refer to the case of the sugar factory at Lublin in Poland. Contrary even to Union provisions, it is planned to make the entire staff of that factory redundant, to knock down all the buildings and to put modern facilities beyond use. It is also planned to deprive growers in the entire region of their livelihood. A one-off compensation payment will not resolve the employment problem. Such actions run counter to the stated aims of the Lisbon Strategy. Ridiculous measures of this sort certainly do not bring us closer to achieving the aims of that Strategy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gisela Kallenbach (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, I should like to broach a completely new topic which has not yet been mentioned, and recall the debate that took place in this House a month ago on the future of the cohesion policy and the link with two European documents: the Leipzig Charter and the Territorial Agenda. That debate was unfortunately held without the presence of a Council representative. The ministerial conferences that preceded our debate, under the German and Portuguese Presidencies of the Council, expressed a definite expectation that the Territorial Agenda would be discussed at the spring summit in order to lend greater political weight to the territorial dimension.

The particular background for this is that the territorial dimension has been incorporated into the Treaty of Lisbon as a new Community objective. According to the documents accessible to me, however, the subject goes unmentioned. Why is this? Cohesion policy is the practical application of the principle of solidarity; it will therefore no doubt be with us, and occupy us, for longer than the Lisbon Strategy, which after all is to be successfully concluded by 2010.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides (GUE/NGL). – (EL) Mr President, the state is ceding the last area of regulation under its control. The welfare state is being dissolved, the private sector is operating without hindrance, social benefits are being reduced and the institutional framework allows employers to hire and fire as they wish. Meanwhile, working conditions are worsening because of flexible working hours, and as a result, workers are being sacrificed to competitiveness for the sake of mega-profits for capital.

Yet another European Council summit is to deal with the Lisbon Strategy, which is deemed to have failed and needs to be reviewed. Convergence has never been achieved, at least for workers. Lisbon and its satellites insist on supporting the Union’s business-centred philosophy, while social policies continue to play second fiddle.

What we need is a radical reorganisation that places citizens back at the centre of the EU’s interests; we need an anthropocentric strategy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Roger Helmer (NI). – Mr President, the ratification of the renamed EU Constitution threatens the democratic legitimacy of the European project itself. The peoples of France and Holland rejected the Constitution, yet it has now come back with a new name and with what Angela Merkel called ‘cosmetic changes’. Now the institutions and the Member States, including the Labour Government in the UK, are dishonestly pretending that these cosmetic changes justify breaking their promise of a referendum. They do not, and the pretence that they do is a huge breach of faith with the people.

In Britain a campaign group has just undertaken an independently monitored postal ballot in 10 Westminster constituencies. Over 150 000 voters responded: 88% wanted a referendum; 89% opposed the Treaty. In six constituencies more people voted for a referendum than voted for their current Member of Parliament.

The people have spoken. The Treaty cannot be legitimate without their consent. The European Council must listen. We must have a referendum.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Werner Langen (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Mr President of the Council, Mr President of the Commission, unlike the speakers from the Socialist Group I wish to commend the Commission for not having hastily altered its economic policy guidelines in these times of global uncertainty caused by the financial crisis. This process forms an integral part of the post-Lisbon Strategy. I wish to explicitly commend the Commission, because it is right.

The shortcomings in fact lie in implementation by the Member States, and the President of the Council should concentrate on these shortcomings in the Member States and not on what changes the Commission can make. That is the problem. When Mr Bullmann talks about a ‘policy-blocking cartel’, his criticism is completely unjustified.

Secondly, the opportunities of globalisation should be exploited and the risks minimised. Mr Schulz said that poverty has increased. That is just an illusion! Europe is a model of prosperity! Prosperity in Europe has risen; its distribution has changed. History has taught us, however, what becomes of societies where there are no differences in distribution. There has to be a certain difference in distribution to stimulate modernisation and dynamism. That is surely undeniable.

Thirdly, on the subject of cutting red tape, not enough has happened in that respect. We have a High Level Group, but nothing is heard of it any more. Is it still functioning? What are its interim findings? When can we expect any? We should like to know before the European elections.

My final point relates to finance market stability. It is indeed true that the greed in the finance market is greater than the fear of disruption, and the Commission needs to take action in this regard. It has already announced some plans.

On the subject of climate change, here, too, the Commission's primary duty is to persuade the Member States at the summit to abide by their earlier goals. Certain Member States have in fact emitted far more CO2 than was ever authorised. How can we effectively introduce new measures unless the sinners of today and past years are punished?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jan Andersson (PSE). – (SV) Mr President, like the Commission I am happy that there are more jobs and that productivity has increased. However, as many have pointed out, there is another side to the coin. Many of the new jobs are insecure and impossible to live from. The possibilities for training are extremely unevenly distributed. Some regions cannot keep up with development. What is needed, therefore, is a social Europe which provides secure jobs with decent wages, which offers the same training opportunities to all and which also ensures that the development is good and even across the regions.

For a long time we have been debating flexicurity. Now a model of flexicurity is being challenged by the European Court of Justice in the Laval case, which does not think that the system applied in Scandinavia is good enough. It is challenged on the grounds that freedom of movement takes precedence over the right to strike. It is also challenged on the grounds that the principle of equal pay for equal work should not apply. It opens the door to social dumping, but not just that, it also means that firms which pay decent wages in accordance with agreements will have difficulty competing. It can lead to protectionism. I share the Commission’s view that we do not need protectionism. It is therefore important for the Commission to make it clear that the principle of equal pay for equal work must apply and that we must have good social conditions throughout Europe, so that the tide of protectionism does not advance across the EU.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Margarita Starkevičiūtė (ALDE). – (LT) I would like to speak about the coordination of economic policy. The European Union is first and foremost an economic union based on moral values. In the face of new challenges the European Union has to find ways of tackling them quickly and flexibly in order not to lose in the dynamism and competitiveness stakes.

Regrettably, the recent economic policy coordination mechanism (the Treaty of Lisbon, the economic policy framework) has a number of stages and is far from being efficient. It impedes the development of the internal market – the main source of economic growth.

I am therefore of the opinion that the European Parliament and perhaps the Commission should present a proposal to the European Council to examine this mechanism with a view to making it more flexible, enabling it to react efficiently to challenges. This would be the best way of guaranteeing the continuity of the economic policy, consolidating the reforms and enabling the EU economy to adapt to new challenges.

The reason why some of the new programmes do not work properly is because their economic viability in the globalised world was not ascertained beforehand. Meanwhile, we are discussing climate change, energy strategy, etc., but all these means, as already mentioned, must be coordinated and their economic consequences evaluated. Only then will they be viable.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Konrad Szymański (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, plans for the internal market in energy and gas are on the agenda for the forthcoming Council.

Separating ownership of energy and the distribution networks is a crucial issue regardless of who may be in power in the Kremlin. Under Mr Medvedew, there will be no change in Russia’s policy of energy blackmail towards Member States of the Union and neighbouring countries. Saving energy and increasing the proportion of renewable energy consumed constitute only part of the solution to these problems. The political aspect must be taken into account too if Europe’s energy policy is to be fully implemented. We must make it abundantly clear what we expect from Russia and from Gazprom by way of reciprocity. Gazprom is a Russian monopoly with a presence in 16 Member States of the Union either as an energy supplier or as the owner of distribution networks. If we do not impose any restrictions on this aggressive monopoly, the Treaty of Lisbon’s provisions on energy solidarity may as well be shelved alongside fairy tales.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gunnar Hökmark (PPE-DE). – Mr President, is it not a little odd that when we are discussing how to make Europe more competitive in order to get more jobs that the discussion is leaning more towards the belief that jobs can be created through new regulations? That is not the case.

I should like to disclose a secret to our Socialist friends here today: in order for there to be employees, there needs to be employers – there are no employees without employers. Their main problem is that, they are so eager to believe that jobs can be created through regulations, they forget that the preconditions and opportunities for new enterprises and new jobs need to be created, because there is no bigger social failure than unemployment and there is no bigger social success than every new job we can achieve in Europe and in our Member States.

I would like to underline what the President said about achieving results through the Lisbon Agenda. Let us not forget that the world is moving faster and we need to be more competitive; we need to be more entrepreneurial.

There are three things I would like him to consider at the European Council and later on. Firstly, concerning red tape and better regulation: I would like him to report annually on the achievements of reducing red tape in order to show that he will reach the goal by 2012 of 25% less red tape than exists today.

I would like him to also ensure that the Services Directive is implemented fully in each Member State as soon as possible. I would like him to ensure that we are facilitating new businesses through a more offensive and more active broadband policy.

I think our success in making Europe more competitive lies in making small and medium-sized enterprises able to act all over the internal market. That is a job we need to do and he should take the first steps, together with the Slovenian Presidency, at the end of this week.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Katerina Batzeli (PSE). – (EL) Mr President, Commissioner, as you know, next year will be the European Year of Creativity and Innovation. This is even greater evidence that the EU is very much hoping to strengthen its competitiveness and meet the challenges of globalisation. It has recourse to the ‘knowledge triangle’: innovation, the promotion of research, and education.

Community and national policies on employment and support for young people chiefly in the education sector ought to adhere to these ambitious targets. They should make systematic and coordinated efforts at regional, national and Community level in order to release the EU’s significant stores of knowledge and research potential. Within this framework, however, I should also like to stress that the recognition of the free movement of knowledge - the ‘fifth freedom’ - is essential; this too should be emphasised at the European Council.

We also ought to recognise this significant initiative within this framework at Community level. The Erasmus and Comenius programmes are at the heart of the initiatives. Let us stress that the new programme, mainly the Erasmus Mundus, which allows both mobility outside the borders of the EU as well as mobility for doctoral students, is an initiative that will have Parliament’s full support. It is up to the Member States to step up coordination on the basis of the Bologna Process and make this mobility possible in practice.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). – (LT) The discussion on the common energy policy and energy security started in 2006 in the wake of the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis, the consequences of which had an unfavourable impact on Europe. Regrettably, we still have neither a clearly defined common energy policy, nor an external energy policy.

I hope the European Council will hold a thorough discussion on the issues of EU energy security, including that of Lithuania, in view of the plans to close the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in 2009.

With the closure of this power plant, Lithuania would become fully dependent on the only source – gas imported from Russia. The rise in oil and gas prices will result in the electricity price in Lithuania more than doubling. Consequently, it will be disastrous for the country’s households and general economy.

Furthermore, Russia is prone to manipulating energy supplies to pursue its political ambitions. Lithuania has already experienced this.

On the basis of Article 37 and Protocol No 4 of the Treaty of Accession, I urge the Commission to help find a solution; one possibility would be to postpone the closure of the safe Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Karl-Heinz Florenz (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, I should like to return to last year's spring summit. It was an extremely successful summit, under Angela Merkel, and it is now a matter of transposing into legislation the decisions reached on 7 March last year.

However, legislation should not be punitive; it should motivate our people and our firms to innovate and ultimately achieve greater sustainability. It would appear from the current debate that the CO2 debate is the most important issue. I believe that the real issue goes much deeper: it is about sustainability. How should we manage our resources in the long term? The key point, in my opinion, is that we must run our economy using fewer fossil resources in the future.

Commissioner, we are bound to get into an argument here because we cannot accept everything you have proposed. On the rules for vehicles, for instance, I dislike the fact that we already know how much someone will be fined, but we know nothing yet about the rules they must comply with. I learned the opposite from my parents: first you must know the rules and then sanctions have to be found. It is important that this procedure be followed in future.

If there are cross-border CO2 problems with the ETS, which I really do not dispute, then I suggest that we find more shoulders to bear this burden, such as by introducing a sensible waste policy throughout Europe. I should like to share with you a very big personal concern of mine, Mr Barroso and Mr Verheugen: you are the guardians of the law! It is absolutely pointless for us to shake hands here and agree on doing something or other, and then for it not to be implemented at the end of the day.

Instead, let us do less! What we do, however, must be done better. Therefore, Commissioner and President of the Commission, exercise your mandate not by punishing the conscientious but by encouraging those who are rather slower off the mark to finally meet the Kyoto targets. A glance at the internet will show exactly who I mean. Good luck; we shall be keeping an eye on you.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Libor Rouček (PSE). – (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, the European Union has made huge progress in the last few years. Its economy is growing faster than the American or Japanese economies. The Union is a world trade emporium, the largest donor of development assistance and also a paragon and model for other parts of the world when it comes to managing political, economic and social relations.

As we heard earlier, the European Union has been able to meet the Lisbon Strategy goals, step by step, whether in the area of employment or in other aspects. It is good to know that new Member States such as Slovenia, which currently holds the presidency, participate in this success in equal measure.

Of course the European Union is facing new challenges: one is excessive dependence on imports of energy sources; another is climate change.

I am convinced that savings, new energy-saving technologies and of course diversification of energy sources represent the key, or at least one of the keys, to solving this problem. In this regard the European Union is going in the right direction.

However, I would like to ask the Commission and the Council to focus, more than they have done so far, on the issues of the use of nuclear energy. This energy is safe, environmentally clean and will reduce our dependence on imports. As to competitiveness, we can see in what direction the US, Russia, China or India are going. Our own research should concentrate on nuclear energy far more than it has done so far.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alexander Lambsdorff (ALDE). – (DE) Mr President, anyone who takes a look at the draft Council conclusions can see that the language on the internal energy market is extremely weak. There is no agreement in the Council on the question of unbundling, and the Commission's package comes in for criticism. I wish to put on record here that we consider it right to pursue the strategy of systematic unbundling, but the unbundling must benefit consumers. It must result in fair prices and security of supply.

The Commission has in fact been too quick off the mark with its proposal on the complete unbundling of ownership rights. We therefore believe that an attempt should first be made to achieve effective unbundling, but that ownership unbundling should not be taken off the agenda for the future.

I should like to raise a second point on the Council conclusions for reasons of principle. The Council states that it looks forward to the social agenda that the Commission will present. That agenda includes the topics of youth policy and education policy. I always thought the Member States were responsible for such matters; in my country, Germany, it is the Länder. I merely wish to put this on record here, because the Parliament, Commission and ECJ will undoubtedly be criticised yet again for appropriating powers. The Council looks forward to the Commission's proposals on youth policy and education policy. We should draw attention to this important point when these matters are discussed at home in the German Länder.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lambert van Nistelrooij (PPE-DE). – (NL) As coordinator for regional policy in the PPE-DE Group, I am happy with the position regions and cities will occupy in the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy. After all, the national reform programmes are implemented at regional level, the level at which we mainly deploy our Structural and Cohesion Funds, as well as the Seventh Framework Programme.

We see right across Europe that 60% of public funds are used at regional level. Furthermore, the tendency is – and it would be good to agree on this now – to go from investing in concrete and asphalt, if we can put it like that, to investing in knowledge and infrastructure; the lion’s share of the Structural Funds, some 70%, will be spent in the coming years on the Lisbon Strategy.

I have another example. Last week we saw in Ljubljana figures on how this money has been spent: EUR 20 billion from the Structural Funds went on research and infrastructure. Commissioner Potočnik spoke of a quiet revolution in the spending of money. Put your money where your mouth is. Do what you say you will do: ensure a shift in spending. It is a quiet revolution that is already in full swing. It is high time that we create a better legal framework at European level for investment in research and infrastructure. You cannot make the same large-scale, expensive investments in every country.

I am delighted that the European Commission is putting forward a proposal this year to fit in with that and another proposal to improve the coordination of national responsibilities.

Finally, we will soon see a White Paper on territorial cohesion is forthcoming, combining not only the development of large central regions but also the territorial cohesion of more remote areas in Europe, and I welcome that too.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gary Titley (PSE). – Mr President, I welcome the recognition by both the Council and the Commission recently that climate change is not just an environment policy but also a security and humanitarian policy. There is nothing new in that of course. The Stern report indicated that some 200 million people could be displaced by climate change, creating huge migratory pressures. It is for that reason that we should always bear in mind that global warming is actually the poor suffering the consequences of the actions of the rich.

I would hope that in our discussion on climate change we can tie our climate change objectives to our development policy objectives. We cannot act in isolation in this area. Of course the poor within the European Union also suffer. That is why any policy on energy has to ensure that Member States have a policy on energy poverty because too many people are suffering because of the rise in energy prices. We need to address that.

But most importantly in this summit, we have to ensure that we have action rather than simply words. The Commission set out a programme in 2007. Two thirds of that has reached the light of day. Where is the other third? Member States commit themselves to targets which they do not reach. We have to focus on action.

I also welcome the work being done on better regulation and the help for small businesses. However, we must put much more emphasis on looking at transposition and evaluating how legislation has been implemented and if it has achieved what we have set out to achieve. If it does not achieve what is required, there is no point in having the legislation in the first place.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Daniel Dăianu (ALDE). – Mr President, the next European Summit takes place in momentous times. The deepening financial crisis, rooted in cyclical and structured conditions, demands firm responses. Asia’s rise implies a new sort of competition amongst capitalisms, with the fallout in the activity of sovereign wealth funds and the rise in the price of basic commodities. One should also add the worrying effects of climate change, the need to secure energy security and a rise in overall uncertainty.

All these factors impact strongly on the implementation of the Lisbon Agenda, through complicated, unavoidable trade-offs. Let me stress several policy issues.

First, the quality of national policymaking is essential for improving industrial and economic performance.

Second, policymaking should be pragmatic, open-minded and avoid the confusion between free markets and totally deregulated markets.

Third, industrial policy, R&D in particular, has a major role to play, together with education. It is essential to increase the number of graduates in science and mathematics in Member States, and all Member States should work together to this end.

Fourth, energy policy needs more focus and the Nabucco Project is a step in the right direction.

Fifth, good quality land should be seen as a strategic asset in the reform of the common agricultural policy.

Last but not least, we have to reaffirm moral values and moral conduct. If we lose our moral compass, the talk about competitiveness in the social...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Klaus-Heiner Lehne (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the newly revised Lisbon Strategy has basically been successful since 2005. This is readily apparent from one fact: when one spoke in public about Lisbon in 2005, everyone knew that it was the Portuguese capital but no one associated it with a process at that time. Kyoto was already a process then, in respect of climate protection.

It is now 2008, and thank goodness the world has changed. Now, when Lisbon is referred to in public speeches, it is of course still the Portuguese capital but it is increasingly associated with a political process, and I think this demonstrates a reasonable degree of success.

I also believe that it was right to set new priorities aimed at boosting growth and employment, because that is one precondition for being able to proceed sensibly with sound environmental and social policies as the second and third pillars of the Lisbon Strategy. I furthermore believe that it was right to leave the guidelines unchanged, because they have on the whole been successful.

I nevertheless wish to mention a few shortcomings. For example, I still see major shortcomings in the ongoing development of the internal market, which has supposedly been with us since the early 1990s but simply does not exist in many areas. We have no internal market in the insurance sector, and in company law, for instance, enterprises are unable to take full advantage of their right of establishment within the European Union. We still lack intellectual property rights and Europe has no rules on patents. There are no common rules on alternative financial instruments and we are still awaiting the internal market in healthcare.

On the other hand, there has been a whole series of legislative proposals in other areas, above all geared to progress in the fields of social affairs, the environment and consumer rights. That is well and good, but a balance must be struck. I would therefore call on the Commission and the Council to pay particular attention to closing the loopholes in the internal market legislation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Riitta Myller (PSE). – (FI) Mr President, the President-in-Office of the Council was quite right when he said he thought that climate change and the economy are closely connected. They cannot be separated from one another. It has been said here that climate change is connected with all policy. This issue must also be visible at the forthcoming summit.

Controlling climate change and adapting to it must be central to the EU’s Lisbon Strategy. At the forthcoming summit we need to lay down a credible political policy in support of the decisions that have been taken.

Unfortunately, energy efficiency and energy saving do not feature among the European Union’s choice of binding remedies. We nevertheless have to remember that the cleanest, cheapest and most efficient form of energy is saved energy. At present we could save that 20% of energy by implementing all EU legislation. In other words, we still need more ambitious and clearer energy efficiency targets. I hope that the forthcoming summit will give attention to this matter.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kathy Sinnott (IND/DEM). – Mr President, tomorrow the heads of Member States meet in summit. I understand there are many items on the agenda, but I hope you will also discuss the impact of the Laval-Vaxholm decision handed down by the ECJ just days after your last summit. This decision allows companies to post workers in any Member State and pay them the minimum wage of the country, not the standard wage for the job in that country. Further, the judgment renders trade unions helpless to protect their workers’ wages. This will force workers in the host Member States to reduce their wages or lose their jobs. This, to me, is the ticking time bomb. The Laval-Vaxholm decision has the potential to unravel social partnership, industrial relations, the economic and social stability of whole countries, communities, responsible companies and families and to unravel support for the European project among its oldest Member States.

Of course, reducing salaries will make the EU more competitive in the global market, where it competes against low-cost nations like China, India and Brazil – but at what price and pain to a family in Ireland with a mortgage?

Mr Bonde and I have sent a protocol to protect Member State economies from Laval to the Slovenian Presidency and our respective prime ministers for inclusion in the European Summit tomorrow. To avoid wide-scale social dumping, take the Laval-Vaxholm decision seriously and include this protocol.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Malcolm Harbour (PPE-DE). – Mr President, this debate on the summit is an opportunity to talk to the Council about what they are doing to implement the whole of the Lisbon Agenda, so I want primarily to focus my remarks to the Council today. I am delighted once again to welcome the Slovenian Minister, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Slovenia recently, and to thank the Slovenian Presidency for their engagement with this process.

I am really pleased that the draft conclusions already published show that the Council is continuing to focus on the four key areas of the Lisbon Strategy. However, I have to say – and I direct my remarks to the President of the Commission – that, although I know he is talking to Mr Špidla, one of the problems is that Commission keeps reinventing and complicating things. We now have 10 objectives from the Commission, which are mentioned in passing here, but in fact we need to focus on what the priorities are.

I want to focus on what I think is the key to what we are talking about: unlocking business potential. It is right that you put that there, but what are Member States doing about it? My colleague, Mr Hökmark, talked earlier about the transposition of the Services Directive. I say to the Council: take the Services Directive and its implementation and what you are intending to do and spread it to all areas relating to unlocking business potential. With the Services Directive you are required to screen all aspects of your domestic legislation that discriminate against companies wanting to offer services across the single market. It cannot be just service companies: it should be all companies of all sizes. I ask you to take that commitment forward and to do that.

The second crucial thing in the Services Directive is that for the first time individual Member States are required to provide information to companies that want to access the single market and encourage them to use that vast opportunity. Creating a single market is a shared responsibility. We are working very hard here to deliver the framework, but how hard are you really working in the Member States to ensure that companies take advantage of that? That is the way that we will deliver the jobs and growth that this economy desperately needs.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Proinsias De Rossa (PSE). – Mr President, I believe the spring Council must reassert the original Lisbon Strategy to address in an integrated way the interdependent policies on economic, social, employment and sustainable development. To do otherwise is to invite the disintegration of Europe and a retreat into protectionism.

High-quality jobs are a key to this strategy: a Europe of excellence cannot be built on the back of low pay, labour insecurity and inequality in the workplace.

The Laval judgment is a perverse interpretation of the legislative intentions of this Parliament and its co-legislator, the Council. Both must, therefore, react as a legislator to reassert our intentions by legislating to close the loopholes identified by the European Court of Justice. One immediate legislative option is to annex to the Posting of Workers Directive the Monti-style social clause, which we have already included in the Services Directive.

The Commission must in the mean time insist on all Member States properly and fully transposing the Posting of Workers Directive into national legislation. Indeed, Member States must immediately revise their domestic labour-led legislation to ensure that the perverse Laval judgment does not undermine their systems of labour relations and collective bargaining.

Finally, let me say that Mrs Sinnott, as usual, is wrong in her interpretation. She is wrong to state that the Laval judgment means that only a minimum wage is applicable in Ireland: it means that all legally binding agreements must be applied in Ireland, and that is far more than the minimum wage. However, there are agreements in Ireland that are not legally binding and that has to be addressed.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georg Jarzembowski (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, Commissioners, Mr President of the Council, I appeal to the European Council on behalf of my Group to properly incorporate European transport policy into the integrated guidelines. The reason is that business and employment in the EU cannot thrive without a sustainable European transport policy and the requisite trans-European networks. Without effective transport corridors, without cooperation between transport providers and without intelligent transport systems, neither trade nor tourism can be expanded inside the European Union or with third countries. That is what we need, however, in order to boost employment.

Mr President of the Council, when talking to your colleagues in the Council, please bear in mind that it is crucial for the Member States to include transport policy in their national plans for growth and employment. Unfortunately we are seeing Member States devote an ever diminishing amount of funding to the maintenance and expansion of national infrastructure, be it railway networks or road networks.

The same goes for the promotion and application of transport systems. Nowadays you can order everything over the Internet, but it can only be delivered by lorry or by rail. You can book any holiday you like, but in order to reach your destination you need a decent airport and decent transport links. If we want growth and employment, therefore, we must have the requisite infrastructure and decent transport systems. These must of course be environmentally friendly. We are therefore of the opinion – for reasons of sustainability – that logistics must be given every support. This is also important for national planning.

Although logistics is primarily the task of companies themselves, we, the Member States and the European Union, can nevertheless help promote logistics by cutting red tape, for example customs procedures at ports.

We need environmentally-friendly policies. I therefore appeal to you, for the sake of growth and employment, to make transport policy the central plank in your strategy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dariusz Rosati (PSE). – (PL) Mr President, the spring Council will meet at a critical juncture. Economic growth within the Union is slowing down, we are having to cope with uncertainty on the financial markets, oil prices are rising and so is inflation. All this is creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and fuelling fears for the future.

In the light of this state of affairs, I find Mr Barroso’s assessment of the situation unduly optimistic. It is hard to rejoice in the creation of six million jobs, as this took place during a period of cyclical growth acceleration during the last two years. It is also hard to predict that constant high efficiency in the workplace will be achieved, on the basis of one or two years in which efficiency has increased. Europe’s potential rate of increase remains very low.

I therefore feel that on the occasion of the forthcoming Council, the European Union must send out a clear message to European citizens, indicating that it is in a position to counter the aforementioned threats. The fear and uncertainty arising from the current economic situation must be countered by decisions rather than by words. To date, summits have all too often ended with declarations that have led to nothing. In the situation in which we now find ourselves, we are expecting the Member States and the Council to take specific decisions. I urge the Council representative present in the House today to take due note of this.

Finally, all this is particularly important because the Treaty of Lisbon is to be ratified over the next few months. This Treaty needs to inspire European citizens and fill them with hope. That is why the forthcoming summit must send out a clear signal to the citizens of Europe that it will improve the situation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Othmar Karas (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Mr President of the Council, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, unemployment is falling, the European Union has gained from globalisation, we are doing better than the United States, and the EU is on the right course. Let us pursue this course with determination, commitment and self-assurance. Let us make the Member States take their responsibilities more seriously. Let us make the public aware of our successes and goals.

Secondly, climate protection and a reduction in energy dependence must give a new lease of life to research, innovation, growth and employment.

Thirdly, let us be frank about the fact that the euro/dollar exchange rate is attenuating energy price rises: they are up 160% in euro, 340% in dollars.

Fourthly, the euro, enlargement, the internal market, the Lisbon Strategy and the Treaty of Lisbon, which strengthens the social market economy and enshrines fundamental social rights: these form an overall package which should help the European Union along the road to success.

Fifthly, education, training, research, innovation and reform of our social, health and pensions systems are the biggest challenges still lying ahead of us.

Sixthly, Mr President of the Commission, the Barroso EIT must feature in the conclusions of the spring summit, with a date set for deciding on its location. Parliament has given the financial green light.

Seventhly, the Small Business Act will trigger a further initiative in this House, without any doubt. The SME Intergroup will put forward the principles we have in mind by the end of this month.

My final point is this: Mr Schultz, the Commission President and the Commission are not our opponents. Our opponents are the lack of power, political capacity and leadership of some governments and parliaments in the Member States. Our opponents are egotism, nationalism and protectionism, not more Europe and not a strong Commission.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pervenche Berès (PSE). (FR) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, I wish to make a single request of you when you go to the European Council: defend this institution when it tells you that the EU’s social and economic situation requires more attention to be paid to social issues, requires us to make our economic policies coherent with our targets and our strategy legitimately drawn up for climate change and energy independence; when it tells you that, if the Lisbon Strategy is to succeed, we need more economic coordination; when it tells you that, if we are to deal successfully with the American subprime crisis, we need better regulated finance markets. Do not let the Member States say that such matters are none of our business: that is not acceptable in a modern democracy.

Mr President-in-Office, at the request of certain Heads of State or Government who are legitimately concerned at the situation of the financial markets, you will examine the consequences of this situation on the EU’s real economy. I ask you therefore to seize this issue, and do not be content with a few proposals that may seem attractive or popular but do not deal with the substance of this issue. The substance here is that we have an integrated financial market and a Central Bank conducting a monetary policy in the interest of the European economy as a whole, but we have no European financial market controller to deal with the challenges and problems involved.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Monica Maria Iacob-Ridzi (PPE-DE). – (RO) By tradition, the first European Summit of the year is dedicated to economic issues. Thus, the Slovenian presidency of the Council of Ministers placed on the agenda of the meeting of the heads of state and government an important debate concerning the second cycle of the Lisbon strategy, reviewed for the period 2008-2010.

In my opinion, certain aspects related especially to the second objective of the Lisbon strategy, namely the degree of employment, must not be absent from the themes you will address over the following days. Although intensely promoted as a principle in the resolutions of the European Parliament, the European mobility of labour has much to suffer in practice.

The arbitrary restrictions imposed on access by workers from the new Member States contribute to reduced mobility. In this sense, at the end of 2008, the European Commission will have to assess the measures on the restriction of labour mobility imposed by certain Member States on Romania and Bulgaria.

Recent statistics show that the significant trend of migration from the two countries is not a fact and none of the states that allowed access by Romanian or Bulgarian workers recorded imbalances in the labour market. However, according to the current legislation, Member States can continue to maintain these restrictions in force, which is indeed a fact in relation to the states having joined in 2004. As the barriers in the labour market are often imposed in response to certain political requirements of the day, I believe that one of the measures that could be discussed would be a review of the transition period system and mainly of the formula 2+3+2.

A welcome measure would be to obtain the mandatory opinion of the European Parliament on the pursuance or halting of restrictions after the first two years following the accession of a new Member State. Such an involvement of the European institutions would reduce the discretionary and arbitrary way in which the limitations on the principle of European freedom of movement are often applied.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Mr President, tomorrow the Spring Council takes place and EU leaders have much to talk about, whether it is turbulence in financial markets, globalisation or demographic change. On globalisation, we need to know from the Council where the current round of world trade talks is actually taking us.

There has been much speculation and some analysis of the latest papers as they pertain to agriculture, but there has been little official word from the Commission or Council on this vital matter. Commissioner Mandelson was with us here last night but I regret that the questions on the WTO were not reached, and this House does not have information directly.

Against that background I am calling on the Spring Council and the Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie O’Hearn, to raise this issue at this important meeting. A month ago Commissioner Mandelson indicated that, in the non-agriculture sector, the talks had moved backwards, not forwards. On agriculture, he suggested that the EU could live with the proposals on the table. I fear that this is a mistaken view. Some analysis I have seen suggests that the common agricultural policy would be decimated by the current deal on the table, and this is a step too far.

I would just like to say that, from an Irish point of view, we are voting – we think – on 12 June on the Lisbon Treaty, so I tell the House that there is much debate already and more to come. I think it is very good that people are engaging in this campaign, and that it will strengthen the Irish links with the European Union – which is to be welcomed. But, given that there are people putting forward protocols which are not on their websites just yet – I have looked at Mr Bonde’s and have not seen it – I think that perhaps it would be appropriate for the Council to comment on the Laval judgment. It is being bandied about and misinterpreted by many, but I do think it would be good for us all to know what the Council’s view is on this. In fact the Treaty of Lisbon, as I read it, is very strong on the social dimension and has no desire to mistreat or abuse workers throughout the European Union or elsewhere. Therefore, people in Ireland should vote ‘yes’ to this important Treaty.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Carlos Coelho (PPE-DE).(PT) I want to start by wishing the Slovenian Presidency every success and to say that I strongly believe that the next European Council should concentrate on economic and development issues. President Barroso is to be congratulated for having prioritised these issues since the start of his term in office. The right action has been taken by reviewing the Lisbon Strategy, removing the red tape and injecting new life.

In spite of the turmoil caused by the international financial crisis and rising energy prices, particularly among fossil fuels, the development in public debt and public deficits, economic growth and job creation have indisputably been positive factors. We must keep going in this direction and not succumb to the difficulties. We need an improved Lisbon Strategy rooted in a pact for growth and employment which invests in knowledge and innovation, which supports sustainable development, which includes an environmental agenda and which takes advantage of the potential of small and medium-sized enterprises. Economic growth is vital, not only to guarantee a good standard of living for Europeans, but also to sustain the economic and social cohesion policies, because the joint commitment behind the European project is based on a logic of solidarity.

This is why I, too, call on the Council presidency to remind Member States that solidarity is a necessary condition for the success of our Union and that the exaltation of national egos can only be negative. In addition to economic issues, there are issues of mobility and security. We therefore happily welcomed, two months ago, the much-anticipated enlargement of the Schengen area and the abolition of internal borders. This is now a common area. Visa policies, border control, data and information sharing, and police and judicial cooperation are tools for ensuring our security and our freedom. We must work together and present a united front to our partners in the world.

I hope that at the European Council this solidarity will be reinforced and that it will be clear to the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia and anywhere else that the negotiation of visa policy with our US partners is a European issue. Here, too, the unity of Europe is a necessary condition for its success and credibility.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Christopher Beazley (PPE-DE). – Mr President, following on from Ms McGuinness’s reference to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, I comment that in my own country, the United Kingdom, good progress is being made in both Houses of Parliament and it is anticipated that the United Kingdom will ratify the Treaty in good order shortly. I do not wish to score points against political opponents, but it was disappointing to those British Conservatives who favour the Treaty that the British Liberal Party abstained. However, I am sure Mr Watson could explain the reasons for that.

At this Spring Council there will presumably be reference to the recent change of government in Russia. It is very important – and increasingly in this House – that the European Union has a common foreign policy with regard to the Russian Federation and to some of the proposals, for example the Nord Stream pipeline. Again, I do not want to anticipate, as this House will be debating the Russian elections on Thursday. However, the motion for a resolution, which apparently we will be able to approve, raises concerns about the treatment of the electoral observers and about what happened to those opposition candidates denied the ability to stand in those elections, and calls for the immediate release of some 50 demonstrators who were arrested in a violent way by Russian Interior Ministry men.

I hope the Council will take this extremely seriously. Obviously, we wish to congratulate President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. We look for good and harmonious relations, but we cannot have them if this House and this European Union is divided. Germans, Dutch, British, Poles – all of us – must have a common view about our relations with the Russian Federation and about how we go about ensuring the energy supply. We do not have to approve Nord Stream; we might well approve the Amber pipeline. I look forward with great interest to the Council’s conclusions in relation to the EU common foreign policy and common foreign energy policy, and in particular to good relations with the Russian Federation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tunne Kelam (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I would like to make three points. Firstly, it is crucial that freedom of services should be applied in all Member States. I am following the messages of my colleagues Mr Hökmark and Mr Harbour. Secondly, support for small enterprises to enable them to share and use the fruits of innovation: the Small Business Act is clearly necessary. Thirdly, as regards the Lisbon Strategy, I would ask you, President Barroso, to remind the European Council that implementation of the Baltic Sea strategy you kindly supported could become a practical contribution to the Lisbon Strategy and, indeed, maybe one of its success stories.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE-DE). (FR) Mr President, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, Mr President of the Commission, I would like to hear your opinion on EU monetary policy. Mr President-in-Office, you stated that you would have an exchange of views on the operation of the financial markets. It could be a good idea for the Heads of State or Government to arrange an exchange of views on EU monetary policy. Mr President of the European Commission, I would like to know how you feel about the application of Article 105 of the Treaty, which makes provision for price stability, but also makes provision, on the assumption that prices are stable, for attention to be paid to economic growth. Do you feel the European System of Central Banks is operating correctly at present?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE). – (SK) Mr President, allow me to begin, on the 50th anniversary of the European Parliament, by wishing this House many future wise decisions on behalf of European citizens.

As we have heard in the course of the debate, and this is something I believe too, we will increase the competitiveness of European economy and create new jobs if we improve the business environment. When adopting effective legislation in this area we must take into account the suggestions of the representatives of small and medium-sized enterprises and make use of their practical knowledge.

That is why I welcome the adoption of the package dealing with the introduction of products onto the market. It was adopted by the European Parliament and the Slovenian Presidency, with the efficient help of the Commission, in particular Commissioner Verheugen, who was personally involved.

Mr President, Slovakia is preparing to adopt the euro: this will increase the competitiveness of the Slovak economy and it will be the final step on Slovakia’s road to joining the established countries. I believe that the Commission and the Slovenian Presidency will make a decision in Slovakia’s favour, on the basis of the evaluation of the results of the Slovak economy, which is in an excellent condition, so that we can adopt the euro on 1 January 2009 as planned.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georgs Andrejevs (ALDE). – (LV) Thank you, Mr President, for letting me speak. I would hope that during the 50th anniversary of the European Council we will not forget one of the European Union’s key slogans – ‘Health in all EU policies’. It is not enough for us to mention it only in specific forums; we make statements, but we do very little. As statistics show, the health situation in Europe is worsening. Increasing numbers of specialists are leaving the European Union, morbidity from many illnesses is worsening, and the health priority to which the Slovenian Presidency has made a commitment – the fight against cancer – should at least be supported in the Council too. Thank you.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Erna Hennicot-Schoepges (PPE-DE). (FR) Mr President, the President-in-Office mentioned property investment funds in connection with finance policies. The President of the Commission did not mention this specific problem in relation to housing. I wish to ask the Commission, since it is putting 2010 forward as European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, if it intends to approach the problem of housing from the point of view of investment packages and finance policies, especially property investment funds on European markets.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the EP’s policy department has commissioned a study on the problems that climate change will pose for us. The damages in Europe are estimated at between EUR 24 and 194 billion. I would suggest that, in accordance with the Barcelona objective, we take 3% of this sum – in other words between EUR 1 and 6 billion – and use it to give the European Institute of Innovation and Technology a head-start in the field of climate change. It should focus on energy efficiency, specifically in the fields of generation and consumption.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nina Škottová (PPE-DE). – (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Lisbon Strategy leaves us in no doubt that the quality of education, research and innovation is a pre-condition for economic success and that support must be given to improving this quality.

The Seventh Framework Programme and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, both vital to developing and improving quality, are concentrating predominantly on existing so-called centres of excellence and take into account their potential. However, most of the centres of excellence are in the old countries of the Union. I want to point out that the new countries, too, have quality education and research institutions, including universities, which should be systematically encouraged to strive for the mark of excellence. This would lead to enlargement of the high-quality education and research base of the European Union.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − I am sorry that I cannot let any other Members speak, and I did not see anyone on the left asking for the floor. Therefore, you cannot accuse me of not calling anyone. People must at least ask for the floor.

(Interjection from Martin Schulz)

I merely wished to make that point, Mr Schulz, and to add that the PPE-DE Group was not too enthusiastic about the introduction of the ‘catch the eye’ system, but it was above all PPE-DE Members who asked for the floor. Allow the President to finish speaking; that, too, ensures a better balance.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) I would like to thank all the Members of the European Parliament who took part in this very interesting, very dynamic and rich discussion, which will be useful in the final preparations for the European Council session tomorrow and the next day.

We will try and take into account as many of the opinions and proposals put forward in this debate as possible. I would also like to try and answer at least some of the questions.

Firstly, I would like to repeat that the European Council session this week is devoted to three main issues: launching the new phase of the Lisbon Strategy, the energy and climate policy package and the financial stability problem. These are the three primary topics.

The Mediterranean Union is not among the primary topics. I would like to thank Mr Schulz for his question and make it clear that an in-depth debate on the Mediterranean Union has not been planned for this session of the European Council. However, the Presidency will respond to the wish expressed by a Member State and enable the proposal for a Mediterranean Union to be presented, probably during the dinner for the heads of state and government on Thursday evening, but we are not planning any special debates on the subject.

I will now turn my attention to the main topics, although I will first mention the Presidency’s opinion on a Mediterranean Union. I will remind you of the words of our Prime Minister and President of the European Council, Mr Janez Janša, in this assembly on 16 January: ‘We wish to strengthen institutions and processes such as the Barcelona process and Euromed, but we do not need duplication or institutions that would be competing with EU institutions and would only cover part of the European Union and neighbouring countries. The EU is a total entity and only as a whole will it be effective in establishing peace, stability and progress in its neighbourhood and beyond.’ This is the position of the Presidency and I believe it will be taken into consideration in the future.

Now a brief word about the main topics. The Lisbon Strategy: several opinions expressed the need for a change in the structure, mechanisms or integral guidelines of the Lisbon Strategy. However, I would like to emphasise here that both the European Council and the Commission are of the opinion that the Lisbon Strategy is effective. The Council and the Commission agree that the Lisbon Strategy is producing results. They agree that the real economy in the European Union is in relatively good shape compared with some other global players.

Therefore, our view is that the mechanisms, existing structures and guidelines of the Lisbon Strategy should be preserved and that attention should be paid to its implementation. It is a fact that circumstances change and that our measures should be adapted appropriately, but those adaptations may be made by changing the text accompanying the guidelines, which has actually been done.

I would like to say a few additional words about the social dimension. It is one of the key dimensions of the Lisbon Strategy. The Council is very aware of that and I fully expect it to express this in the conclusions of the European Council session. There cannot be any doubt about that.

It has been said that the Treaty of Lisbon, if and when ratified, will change the balance between social and other dimensions. I am convinced that that is not true. The European social model will not in any way be damaged by implementation of the new Lisbon Treaty – on the contrary.

I would like to thank Mrs McGuinness for the information about voting day in Ireland. I wish them all the best. I hope the Irish voters will decide in favour of the European Union.

Regarding the other important set of topics, that is to say the climate and energy package, I would say the following: yes, Mr Watson, we are aware that it would be useful for governments – and not only governments but perhaps also European institutions and other important players – to set an example in achieving greater energy efficiency, reducing energy consumption, and the like. Maybe we will be able to reach an agreement and maybe not. The fact is that it would be useful because energy efficiency certainly is and will be an important element of the climate and energy package debated by the European Council.

Let me reiterate that we have initiating commitments from March last year, when Germany held the Presidency. We now have to implement them. We have quantified targets which we must reach by combined efforts. We must agree on how to share out those efforts. I have already said that it will not be possible to reach that agreement tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.

However, we can agree on some basic principles of sharing these efforts among the Member States and on some limits regarding the time frame. I have said that we wish the agreement among the Member States to be reached before the end of the year and the joint decision with the European Parliament as soon as possible in 2009.

A few words about financial stability, which will be the third important topic of the European Council session. For this session of the European Council, ECOFIN has prepared an interim report on the situation on the financial markets, and I would like to say something more on that subject. The impression is being created that European organisations and institutions are standing idly by while the crisis rages out there in the financial markets.

I must stress that European organisations are not standing idly by. I would like to emphasise that they are taking action. At the debate on this topic yesterday, initiated by Mrs Berès, Commissioner Almunia responded by saying that before we act we must establish with certainty which measures are really necessary and which ones may cause even more damage.

ECOFIN will therefore continue to tackle this problem. After this European Council session, that is to say as early as April, an informal meeting of the ECOFIN Council is planned to take place in Slovenia. The central topic of this meeting will be the problem of financial stability. We expect the European Council to offer some concrete guidelines in this matter.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I will end by reiterating my conviction that the most important things in all this are cooperation and synergy, especially among the three key institutions of the European Union: the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council. The Slovenian Presidency will do its utmost to make that synergy as strong as possible.

Allow me to announce that the President of the Council will give a report to the Parliament on the European Council session this week.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission.(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, at the end of these discussions I feel we can say there is in fact broad agreement in the House that the Lisbon Strategy ought to be pursued, that it is a success and that we must work harder on it, especially in terms of implementation, particularly the practical implementation by our Member States of the priorities originally set. There are, of course, a number of differences as to emphasis; where should the emphasis be placed? I must, however, underscore the general backing for the Lisbon Strategy and the clear conclusions of the European Parliament that indicate that it is working and that it is our answer to globalisation.

I must underline the substance of the issue, and first and foremost Europe’s attitude to globalisation. The fact of the matter is that, even in a more difficult economic climate, due to financial instability in particular, European exports are increasing and Europe is still far and away the leading recipient of foreign direct investment. Europe has assets at its disposal to deal with globalisation. We must therefore maintain our course, and I wish to thank all those who have so clearly supported this posture, especially Mr Daul, Mr Watson and so many others.

Protective Europe must also be protected now, as a number of you, including Mr Désir, pointed out. We agree on this point; the question is how to protect it. We believe that we can protect Europe not by shutting ourselves off but by enabling others to open up as we are opening up. That is the issue.

Europe, the world’s largest trading power, with steadily increasing exports, cannot now embrace protectionism. That would be against our own interests. The best solution is to make sure that others open up themselves, not only in relation to trade and access to their markets, but also in more ambitious environmental terms and in terms of social rights.

Internally we can of course do more within the social framework, and I wish to say that the message the Commission will take to the European Council is a message of social commitment. In particular, we are in favour of a social agenda based on access, solidarity and opportunity.

Some of you mentioned the Laval case. I must tell you again what I have already said to you many times, and what I also said when addressing the Swedish Parliament: the Commission’s interpretation of the Laval case is not, as a number of people have suggested, a contradiction between the principles of the internal market and the principle of defending workers’ rights.

On the contrary, we feel that the flexicurity model and, in a general sense, what is known as the Scandinavian model of labour relations, is a progressive model that has produced some excellent results in Europe. It is our plan, we are anxious to state, to combat all forms of social dumping. There can be no doubt about the Commission’s position on this matter.

I thus wish to emphasise this aspect, for it seems to me we must avoid at all costs falling into the trap of viewing the social aspects as being contrary to competitiveness in Europe. As several of you mentioned, including Mr Crowley and others, we need an open Europe with an open economy and society, but we also need a Europe that welcomes social inclusion. Let us therefore resist this tendency.

Let us also resist the tendency to play social aspects off against environmental aspects. Here I wish to emphasise the Commission’s determination. We are absolutely to determined to follow through the commitments made unanimously by the European Council in March last year. During Mrs Merkel’s German Presidency there was unanimous support for a number of targets. What I can tell you is that during the next phase the Commission will be even more determined to build a genuine European energy policy and to combat climate change.

If there have been a number of changes in terms of recent developments, this confirms both the urgent nature of the situation and consequent determination. Here I wish to echo the words of Mr Turmes and Mrs Harms, among others, and state that social issues must not be played off against environmental issues. The problem of energy or energy-intensive industries merits a separate reply.

We want competitive European industry. Our aim is not for Europe to become an industrial wasteland: quite the contrary, in fact. Our goal is ‘greening’, an industry that can turning its sights towards achieving a new compatibility with our targets in terms of fighting climate change. It would be a huge error to view the competitiveness of European industry as contrary to the fight against climate change. That is why in our proposals, and the Commission has stated this clearly, we support specific guarantees for energy-intensive industries. We do not want to see our industries moving away to other parts of the world.

Now we need to know what our main objective is at this stage. Our objective is to have a global agreement on climate change and to participate in the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference with proposals that will encourage others to move. However, if there is no global agreement, we are prepared to take protective measures – and I am not afraid of using the word – for the benefit of Europe’s energy-intensive industries.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, we must hold our course. I wish to thank all those who stressed the importance of holding our course, especially Mr Ferber, Mr Karas and many others. The Lisbon Strategy is a strategy for all seasons. The greatest danger would be to take a step backwards now in the face of a new global economic situation.

What we must do, on the contrary, is hold our course for the European economic reforms, but these must be economic reforms for an open Europe, a more socially inclusive Europe, a Europe that is more resolute as regards the environment. We see no contradiction between these objectives: quite the reverse, in fact. We feel that we must now focus on implementing the Strategy. It has been a sound Strategy and it will continue to be sound in terms of social, economic and environmental development in Europe.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − If I may interpret what the President of the Commission said: it was Mr Langen, not Mr Ferber, who spoke.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Martin Schulz (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to make use of one of our Rules of Procedure and make a personal statement relating to several comments by colleagues from other groups about my speech addressed to the President of the Commission. I do not wish to go back over the debate here; I think it has become clear that there are both agreements and divergences.

Not even the Commission President's closing words can obscure the fact that there is a particular political message associated with his insistence on the Lisbon Strategy and the unaltered guidelines of the Lisbon Strategy. His message is that these guidelines do not need altering in any way. Our message is that they must be altered so as to improve social inclusion in Europe. That is the difference!

(Applause)

However, Mr President, two things are unacceptable and I wish to make this perfectly plain. If Mr Watson and, in particular, Mr Karas are trying to create the impression in this House that the slightest critical remark addressed to the Commission is sacrilegious because it creates a split between the European institutions, we cannot go along with that. It is the European Parliament’s duty to tell the Commission in what direction to go.

(Applause)

Furthermore, it is my duty as Chairman of this Group to point out that we perceive a social imbalance in Europe. If you believe otherwise, that is your affair. It is not, however, a criticism of the Commission to say that we would like it to alter its guidelines. To turn this criticism into a disagreement between the institutions serves only one purpose, a political and ideological purpose.

I caution you: if you want to force the Commission into the Liberal and PPE-DE corner, if you create an impression that it is a Liberal/PPE-DE Commission, then you are making a mistake because you are portraying this Commission in ideological terms. We do not want that; we stand by our policy of cooperation with the Commission. You, not we, are pushing Mr Barroso into the right corner!

(Uproar and applause)

We want a policy of social justice, however. That is what we are advocating here, and we will not be drawn into an institutional debate when we are conducting a political debate!

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Joseph Daul (PPE-DE). (FR) Mr President, I will be very brief. If we wish to reply to what our colleagues have been saying all morning, as Group Chairman, this must be included in the Rules of Procedure. We can skirt around the issue or divert to the sidelines. If we wish to renew the debate, we will do so. Mr Schulz, I will simply say that my group and I concern ourselves with social issues just as much as you do, and we are all …

(Applause)

I wish to say, ladies and gentlemen, that it is possible to focus on social aspects when one has actually earned a little money, but we cannot imitate the Socialists and spend money we have never earned.

(Applause from the right)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Graham Watson (ALDE). – Mr President, I will be very brief, but since Mr Schulz mentioned my name, let me at least say the following: Mr Schulz, I had no wish in what I was saying in any way to attack you personally, but I think we have a serious debate here about how to create competitive economies and how to stimulate competitive economies consistent with social cohesion and environmental stability. I do not believe that the way to create those economies is to argue that the market does not work because it does not produce the goods we want. I believe, as the President of the Commission was saying this morning, that the most recent evidence from the global economy is that the market can produce those goods and I think that is something around which we can unite and indeed prosper.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − Ladies and gentlemen, the Rules of Procedure only permit further reactions from Members who have been the subject of personal remarks. The other Members who have called for the floor have not been the subject of personal remarks.

The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Roberta Alma Anastase (PPE-DE), in writing. (RO) The decision to dedicate the forthcoming European Council to the Lisbon strategy is welcomed and necessary. I believe that the discussion in March must be focused on assessment of the concrete results achieved to date and on the adjustments to be made in order to transform the strategy into a real success.

Two key elements should be pursued to ensure sustained economic development associated with the achievement of prosperity in EU. On the one hand, the EU must continue its policy on the consolidation of the education, training and innovation system, and 2009, declared the year of innovation, must be fully used to this end. On the other hand, it is necessary to develop the European policy on migration and integration of migrants as a factor of European growth.

At the same time, the EU will not be truly stable and prosperous unless it effectively and firmly promotes these goals externally, in the areas close to Europe, especially in the Black Sea region. On these grounds, I believe that the European Council must address the issue of energy security and successful implementation of Nabucco project, while taking account of the alarming situation in some of the neighbouring countries following the recent elections in the area.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alexandra Dobolyi (PSE), in writing. (HU) The upcoming Spring European Council will launch the next three-year cycle of the Lisbon Strategy. The focus will be on climate change, on the challenges arising in relation to energy, and on financial market stability.

In the globalised world, continued success for Europe requires that we deal effectively with all three issues. It is vital to formulate a common European Union position in the shortest possible time.

We have acknowledged the progress made with the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy since spring 2006, and we support the continued efforts aimed at adopting directives on issues relating to the overall economy, but even more importantly, ensuring that these extend to all Member States.

It is becoming increasingly urgent to reach an agreement on issues relating to climate and energy matters. We need to find an effective solution to Europe’s energy dependence while at the same time ensuring that European products retain their economic competitiveness.

We have witnessed the rise of the sovereign wealth funds, and we must ensure that their activities are conducted in a transparent and trustworthy manner. Effective legislation needs to be put in place concerning the operation of these funds.

It is timely that the Council should be addressing this issue and we must develop a united European position as soon as possible in order to eliminate the uncertainties currently surrounding this issue.

No less importantly, the Spring Council must put in place every possible but indispensible measure to strengthen the prudential regulatory framework in the interests of ensuring financial market stability.

The crisis, which could affect European citizens, is not yet over; the worst may yet be to come. If this Council meeting had a motto, it would have to be ‘there is no time to waste’.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing.(PT) In the statements made today before this House in preparation for the spring European Council, we once again heard the same speeches by the main persons responsible for the European Union.

They once again insisted on the increasingly neoliberal path of the Lisbon Strategy, which involves flexibility in labour relations, or in other words, more attacks on the rights of workers and more precarious and badly-paid work, while the profits of economic groups and the financial sector continue to increase. They insisted on the liberalisation and privatisation of structural sectors and public services, seemingly indifferent to the consequences of this policy for millions of people on low incomes.

They still do not want to alter the situation of poverty affecting nearly 78 million people, 25 million of whom are workers on low wages. They are still allowing youth unemployment, which is reaching rates double those of overall unemployment and which affects many young people with higher education who cannot find work, and even less so work that has anything to do with their education.

They do not want to alter their policies in order to prevent their consequences on the European Union, particularly on the weaker economies, and to avoid worsening the social situation: hence the importance of us insisting on the replacement of the ‘Lisbon Strategy’ with a European strategy for solidarity and sustainable development.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ian Hudghton (Verts/ALE), in writing. It is essential that the Council follow up on the commitments made on climate and energy policy. Clearly the challenge will be to follow the rhetoric with actual delivery of objectives. Scotland has much to contribute in terms of renewable energy resources, including wave, tidal, offshore wind and even solar energy. The new Scottish Government is working to the limits of its devolved power in trying to maximise the potential for Scotland, and to encourage connectability for our surplus electricity into European networks. Scotland would be in a much better position to contribute to Europe’s climate change objectives if we were full participants in the European Union as an independent Member State. An independent Scottish Government would be a constructive player in the EU, keen to develop the best interests of Scotland, obviously, but also willing to work with partners in Europe for our mutual benefit.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Magda Kósáné Kovács (PSE), in writing. (HU) Today’s debate has been preceded by heated discussions over the past few days. The old, worn-out liberal slogan of ‘let the market function and it will solve all the problems’ seems to have been resuscitated. I, meanwhile, am happy to belong to the sort of political family that has spoken out very firmly in defence of Europe’s social values and has reminded us of the fact that protecting human dignity is a duty that binds the 27-member European Union together.

The Commission and the Council have a duty to ensure that the new challenges and growing risks facing Europe have the effect of reinforcing solidarity. Europe’s decision-makers and its parliament of elected representatives, meanwhile, must act together to prevent the emergence of poverty rivalry, to prevent the economy and market competition from bulldozing the weak – children, immigrants, older people, and families. Together they must accept that they are responsible not only for those who earn their living through work, but also for those who have been pushed to the margins of society.

The new social face of Europe that emerged in the Lisbon process does not choose between economic or market values and human destinies. In this Europe, the goal is not merely to improve the number and quality of jobs in general; activities that sustain human lives and that are sustainable in the long term are just as much a requirement that we should consider a common value. Accordingly, social welfare provides assistance in times of transition. If these values genuinely foster a desire to mobilise for action, then the 2009 elections could result in European institutions that are even better integrated and more humane than before.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Esko Seppänen (GUE/NGL), in writing. (FI) The European Union is full of big words. Once again this morning they have been used to speak about the Lisbon Strategy. The truth is that there has been slow progress in the matter and the target set has not been achieved. The Presidency’s expressed desire to broaden the Strategy to embrace the social dimension is presumably just Euro election propaganda: there is no mention of how this might be done and so there is no evidence it is anything else. The Presidency should have also focused on the small tasks. One would have been to provide the Member States with a consolidated version of the Treaty of Lisbon. The fact that the Slovenian parliament ratified the Treaty without one does not serve as a good model for democratic countries.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bernard Wojciechowski (IND/DEM), in writing. The EU summit agenda seems to make us freeze. Global warming will trigger a dangerous contest over energy resources. The Solana/Ferrero-Waldner report points to the Kremlin’s grab for the Arctic. The ice is melting, so ‘the scramble for resources will intensify’. Geo-strategically speaking, the thawing Arctic will open new trade routes for everybody; for Russians, too.

In the meantime, the EU broke the ice in Kosovo. The local warming hit the ceiling. Serbia lost part of its territory. Islam has made another step forward. It is amazing that the EU has sent its troops to fight against radical Islam in Iraq and Afghanistan, at the same time it covers the assailants’ civilisation in Europe. The Archbishop of Montenegro regrets that the United States has acted like the Old Testament Ahab, Great Britain forgot its struggle for the Falklands, now it dares to threaten the fate of a Christian country, while Germany does not seem to bear in mind 1914, 1941 and Kragujevac any more. Apparently, the Archbishop seems to forget that the German soul embraces to Hegel, Feuerbach and Nietzsche, rather than to Goethe and Schiller. However, the Archbishop remembers that the Italian Mussolini had incorporated Kosovo to the fascist Albania.

 

4. Statement by the President
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The Conference of Presidents has asked me to make a statement, before voting time, on the situation of the hostages in Columbia. I hope this will bring peace and order back to our proceedings.

The sixth anniversary of the kidnapping of Íngrid Betancourt fell on 23 February, and the eyes of the international community and the European Parliament are once again trained on the human tragedy which many of the 700 hostages kidnapped by the FARC in Columbia have been enduring for several years under inhumane conditions. This is yet another occasion to demand their immediate release on humanitarian grounds.

(Applause)

Since the state of health of many of the kidnap victims, including Mrs Betancourt herself, gives extreme cause for concern, we demand their immediate release on humanitarian grounds and the dispatch of an international medical team to provide the hostages with rapid medical assistance. We welcome the efforts of President Uribe to seek dialogue aimed at a humanitarian settlement. We declare our solidarity with the victims, with the hostages and their families.

(The Members of Parliament rose to their feet and applauded.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: GÉRARD ONESTA
Vice-President

 

5. Voting time
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – The next item is voting time.

(For results and other details of the vote: see Minutes)

 

5.1. Request for waiver of the immunity of Mr Hans-Peter Martin (A6-0071/2008, Diana Wallis) (vote)

5.2. Energy statistics (A6-0487/2007, Claude Turmes) (vote)

5.3. Statistics on plant protection products (A6-0004/2008, Bart Staes) (vote)

5.4. Common organisation of agricultural markets and specific provisions for certain agricultural products as regards the national quotas for milk (A6-0046/2008, Elisabeth Jeggle) (vote)

5.5. CAP "Health Check" (A6-0047/2008, Lutz Goepel) (vote)

5.6. The situation of women in rural areas of the EU (A6-0031/2008, Christa Klaß) (vote)

5.7. Sustainable agriculture and biogas: review of EU legislation (A6-0034/2008, Csaba Sándor Tabajdi) (vote)
  

– Before the vote on paragraph 41:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi, rapporteur. − Mr President, we agreed to change paragraph 41 and not to propose a specific biogas EU directive but to integrate it into the draft renewable energy directive.

The text is as follows: ‘Proposes the comprehensive inclusion of the promotion of biogas in the framework of the draft renewable energy directive with special emphasis on the following elements:’. Plus we agreed to delete point ‘(a)’.

 
  
  

(Parliament agreed to accept the oral amendment)

 

6. Explanations of vote
  

Oral explanations of vote

 
  
  

- Report: Elisabeth Jeggle (A6-0046/2008)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ryszard Czarnecki (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, the conditions were not that favourable for speaking.

I wish to refer to the vote on increasing milk quotas by 2% as early as next month. I believe that Parliament’s decision in this regard will promote the development of agriculture, especially in those countries that unfortunately have been suffering from quota reductions so far. This has been the case of my country, Poland.

I should also like to take this opportunity to state that during yesterday’s vote on the European Institute of Technology, I intended to vote in favour of adoption of that report, and not as I did in error.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bernard Wojciechowski (IND/DEM). – (PL) Mr President, the amendments contained in the proposal for a Council regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007 establishing a common organisation of agricultural markets and on specific provisions for certain agricultural products as regards the national quotas for milk seem entirely justified. The plan to increase the current limits on milk quotas by 2% is particularly welcome.

I represent Poland in this House, and my country is the fourth largest milk producer in the European Union. At present, it produces 12 billion litres of milk a year. In the context I just referred to, the aforementioned amendment is particularly important for farmers and milk product processors in Poland.

In addition, I should like to state that I support the opinion contained in the text of Amendment 13, namely that milk production is particularly important in regions with poorly developed agricultural infrastructure, where comparable alternatives in agricultural production often do not exist.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). – (LT) Recently we have observed a continuous increase in market demands for milk. Such a situation restricts competitiveness and causes price increases.

In my country, Lithuania, the milk procurement price increased by 40% in 2007. Therefore, national milk quotas should be increased to enable lower milk prices to be achieved within the internal market as well as to allow the possibility of exporting more milk to third countries. In 2006-2007 nine EU Member States reached their allocated national milk quotas. To increase EU milk supply, these countries, as well as the other Member States, should be allowed to produce more milk.

In Lithuania national milk quotas for 2006/07 have almost been reached. Milk production is still increasing. I welcome the Commission’s decision to increase national milk quotas by 2% from 1 April 2008. However, looking towards the future, I would like to encourage the Commission to examine the possibility of increasing national milk quotas by 5% and gradually lowering fines for overproduction.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Milan Horáček (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, like the Green Group, I voted against the report on national quotas for milk. I object to the 2% increase in quotas because such measures lead to an erosion of milk prices and threaten farmers’ livelihoods.

I am in favour of quantitative controls on milk production after 2015, because otherwise cattle rearing in mountainous areas and disadvantaged regions, where the rearing of dairy cattle helps to preserve the countryside, would be jeopardised. Liberalisation would cause milk production to be concentrated in just a few regions and intensive farms. Those who lose out will be small producers, who can no longer cover their production costs owing to such low prices.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Albert Deß (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, I should like to give an explanation of vote on the Jeggle report. I voted against the report because, like my Bavarian CSU colleagues, I am against raising milk quotas. We already have a situation where milk prices are dropping sharply.

Prices for some products have fallen by over 30%. Our dairy farmers’ earnings have been inadequate for years, and now for the past six months they have obtained reasonably decent milk prices. If the quota is raised, it means that milk prices will come under pressure and our dairy farmers will once again have to expect to be underpaid for their work.

In Bavaria we have 48 000 farms employing 90 000 people in the rearing of dairy cattle, and another 50 000 jobs in upstream and downstream sectors, making a total of 140 000 jobs. I cannot understand why quotas should be extended in this important sector, since it is to the disadvantage of the farmers concerned. I could have agreed to an extension in the new Member States, because the quantities available there are indeed inadequate.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Syed Kamall (PPE-DE). – Mr President, as I walked into the Chamber today, I heard the President of the Commission talk about the need to improve the EU’s competitiveness. Yet here we are talking about milk quotas, a phrase that makes the European Union sound like the ‘EUSSR’.

It has been argued that keeping quotas makes prices high so we can keep farmers in business. But at what price? At the same time, they have led to the EU’s share of the world dairy market falling. Why? Because quotas actually stop efficient farmers from expanding while elsewhere quotas remain unused.

Quotas may guarantee production but at too high a cost for consumers, too high a cost for efficient farmers and too high a cost for EU economies. It is time to scrap the quotas and trust the free market.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, I support this report, which only proposes a 2% increase in the quotas for 2008-2009, because that was what was required in order to achieve a compromise. I actually requested a 4% increase, because I believe that would enable us to ascertain how to retain the market, which in turn would allow us to draw conclusions on the basis of which we could take a decision on potential departure from the quota system in its present or amended form. Alternatively, we could decide to abandon it altogether. I am referring to changing the quota system after 31 March 2015.

A larger quota increase is essential, notably in my country, Poland, where production quotas per head of population are far lower than in the old Member States. In addition, consumption of milk products in Poland is low. We should be able to respond to increasing consumption with our own production, because we enjoy good conditions for the latter, yet the farmers were assigned low production limits. This information indicates the need for higher milk quotas in the future.

 
  
  

- Report: Lutz Goepel (A6-0047/2008)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Michl Ebner (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, I voted enthusiastically for the Goepel report. The rapporteur's work was very comprehensive and very positive. We could not of course include everything we would have liked, but the most important thing is that the preconditions have been created for introducing the relevant derogations in mountainous areas. The situation there is not comparable with others and hence requires special protection, special consideration and special support.

May I also take this opportunity to refer briefly to yesterday’s vote on the Albertini report? It appears from the voting list that I voted against Amendment 5. It was in fact my intention to vote in favour, since over the past few parliamentary terms I have been very active on this issue of the Alpine Convention and the Commission's signing of the Transport Protocol.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jan Březina (PPE-DE). – (CS) I supported the report by Mr Goepel on the common agricultural policy because I consider it to be a much better document than the existing proposal by the Commission.

I appreciate the much more realistic and just way of setting up a rate for degressivity of direct payments, although in principle I am against making up artificial criteria for the size of enterprises in the process of reducing direct payments, because such a policy would in particular put large farms in the new Member States at a disadvantage.

Reducing direct payments to large farms more than to other farms is not just. The notion that these large farms are in the hands of one owner who is the recipient of generous subsidies is wrong. On the contrary, their ownership structure is often diversified; in most cases these are cooperatives made of a large number of members: smallholders. These are precisely the end recipients of direct payments and they would suffer the most.

I would also like to caution against the oft-discussed modulation, in other words transferring funds from the direct payments pillar to the rural development pillar. It will keep the funds in the national envelope but with the result that the farms will be discriminated against directly by the Member State.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, the European Union’s role is to legislate and to devise solutions that ensure, firstly, stability and development for farms, secondly, a suitable income level for farmers, comparable to levels in other occupations, thirdly, food security for society and fourthly, the availability of affordable food for low earners.

I believe the report by Mr Goepel is in line with the role I have just outlined. It is important to bear in mind, however, that farmers are engaged in a very specific activity, namely production out in the open that is dependent on climatic conditions. Production cannot therefore be increased overnight, for instance by introducing a second shift. Agricultural products represent a vital area of commerce. The conditions and principles of trade on the global market therefore have important consequences for European agriculture. I have in mind the WTO negotiations.

Agriculture is not simply production. It also helps to preserve the landscape and impacts on the environment: hence the complex nature of the tasks involved and the need to introduce suitable instruments providing support, within the framework of the common agricultural policy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Christopher Heaton-Harris (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I would like to give an explanation of vote because I have always been consistently against the common agricultural policy. The first political speech I ever gave was along those lines. But even I have to admit that, over the process of this last time period for the CAP, there have been some minor improvements.

I am concerned about many of the aspects of this report – the rejection of the reduction in the total budget for the first pillar for the period until 2013, and in a recent meeting with farmers in the village of Pitsford in my constituency, even the smallest of farmers understands the global problems that the common agricultural policy that we have in Europe is creating for those poorer people out in developing countries whose products cannot compete with our subsidised ones. So I did vote in favour, but with a heavy heart.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Albert Deß (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, for the same reasons that I gave in the case of the Jeggle report, I and my CSU colleagues voted against Lutz Goepel's report. Both Elisabeth Jeggle and Lutz Goepel have delivered excellent reports, and we could certainly agree with 98% of the points made in the Goepel report.

However, the key question is this: it says in the report that milk quotas should be increased by 2% on a voluntary basis, and I cannot agree to that. Furthermore, I must energetically contradict those who have said that dairy products are too expensive. I have some statistics here, stating that in 1970 a German industrial worker had to work for 22 minutes to buy 250 grams of butter; today he only needs to work four minutes. In those days he had to work nine minutes for a litre of milk; today only three. Food is cheap, and the danger of raising quotas is that milk prices will fall again.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Syed Kamall (PPE-DE). – Mr President, as a follow-on from the last explanation of vote, the speaker said how much less workers have to work in order to afford things like butter, milk and other agricultural products. I know that many of my constituents welcome that, especially those on lower incomes, because it helps them if they are spending less on foodstuffs.

But we heard the President of the Commission talk about the need for a competitive Europe as I walked into the Chamber today. But how can we really achieve this when we continue to have the common agricultural policy? How are we really going to become a competitive economy if we continue to spend more than 40% of the EU’s budget on agriculture – a sector that produces less than 5% of the wealth?

How can we continue to give government-to-government aid to developing countries with one hand while with the other hand hindering farmers in developing countries through our subsidies and our import tariffs?

How can we continue to hold up negotiations at the World Trade Organisation because we will not move sufficiently, because of the common agricultural policy?

It is time to scrap subsidies; it is time to scrap tariffs; it is time to scrap the common agricultural policy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Edward McMillan-Scott (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I voted for the Goepel report, not because I support the common agricultural policy but because I support its reform: in particular, its focus on upland farms. I come from a long line of sheep farmers and now represent Yorkshire and the Humber in Parliament, and I have been focusing on the problems of our hill farmers in recent months.

Only a few days ago, on 28 February, the Yorkshire Post had the headline ‘Hill farmers are urged to come up with survival ideas’. It went on: ‘many small hill and moorland farmers are crumbling under the pressures of grant changes, bureaucratic costs and low prices caused by competition from other countries. Movement restrictions imposed in response to last autumn’s foot-and-mouth scare and the arrival of the disease bluetongue are adding further pressure.’

Yesterday I had a meeting with Commissioner Fischer Boel. I pressed on her the importance of encouraging the British Government, in so far as grant aid is made available to hill farmers in England, to increase the subsidies because they are the second lowest in the European Union. That is a scandal.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Seán Ó Neachtain (UEN). – (GA) Mr President, as regards the health check on the Common Agricultural Policy, I would like to say that I am against the clause contained in it about payments that are taken from farmers to increase rural and environmental development schemes from 5% to 13%. I think that this is wrong. I think that the decision should be made by each Member State.

We are discussing food production. We are discussing food safety in Europe. That is the reason why the European Common Agricultural Policy is extremely important for us. It is very clear that people in Europe don’t understand how important this is. I am extremely unhappy with the World Trade Talks which threaten the European Food Policy and I said the same to Commissioner Mandelson at a meeting we had yesterday.

 
  
  

- Report: Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (A6-0034/2008)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Oldřich Vlasák (PPE-DE). – (CS) Mr President, I would like to comment on Mr Tabajdi’s report on sustainable agriculture and biogas. Although I did not support this report, I would like to stress its positive part that deals with waste separation, in particular in municipal agglomerations, and with using bio-components in the process of biogas production. However, this system carries high economic costs, higher than simple waste disposal in landfill sites or incineration, and that is why we should pay attention to it.

I therefore consider it very important to encourage local authorities in particular to increase solid communal waste collection, to separate and further use bio-components, and to create special financial instruments or possibly simplify the use of EU Structural Funds.

 
  
  

- Report: Christa Klaβ (A6-0031/2008)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) I voted in favour of the report on the situation of women in rural areas of the European Union as this is a very important and interesting subject. In taking up this issue, the European Union has shown itself in a different light. The aforementioned subject is very close to my heart, because of my origins, my professional interest and also my activity as a Member of Parliament.

Despite the positive changes that have taken place, women still carry out many more tasks than men, particularly in relation to the home and the family. Women are particularly overburdened in rural areas.

Since Poland’s accession to the European Union it has been noted that living conditions in the country have improved and incomes have risen. This is helping to improve the daily lives of women in rural areas. It is true that this is only the beginning of the changes, but at least something is happening.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Agnes Schierhuber (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, the situation of women in rural areas deserves our undivided attention. By improving their situation the full potential for development in rural areas can be tapped. New communication technologies and hence new jobs must be created. The relevant infrastructure is needed, in other words transport routes to open up rural areas, but good training opportunities are necessary above all else. All of this and much more can halt the population exodus from rural areas.

Over half of the EU population lives in rural areas today; 45% of European gross value added is produced in rural areas and 53% of available jobs are located there. Women assume greater responsibilities in rural areas than has so far been acknowledged, especially in respect of their obvious social commitment.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Christopher Heaton-Harris (PPE-DE). – Mr President, it is always a pleasure to rise on a position taken by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in this place.

For a long time now I have wondered why this thing still exists, the Women’s Committee, in this place. We have a Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, and obviously women are lesser than everyone else and therefore, bizarrely in this place, we need a separate committee.

If you look at some of the recommendations in this report – of which I know the rapporteur on my particular side has done an awful lot of work to make sense – we call on Member States ‘to provide [...] financial support for unremunerated work’. We are asking for ‘compulsory registration of assisting spouses’. Are we going to eartag people like me who live in a rural area and are married to a woman in a rural area?

There are some really good recommendations in this report, actually, that do deserve thorough scrutiny and better oxygen of publicity, but the fact they come from this committee in this place actually means they are going to be buried much quicker.

I appreciate the gavel, Mr President, but I do hope that you understand why so many of us do not take seriously the recommendations of the Women’s Committee in this House.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frank Vanhecke (NI). – (NL) My name is not Martin Schultz, my name is simply Frank Vanhecke, and I am clearly not a first-rate Member of Parliament and consequently have no right at any time, in any debate, no matter what time or for how long, to express my opinion, and therefore I must now and then turn to the voice of the polls like a mere mortal and not remotely like the holiest of holies, Mr Schultz.

That said, I now want to speak about Mrs Klaß’s report. You see, I do not deny that women in remote areas and in other places undoubtedly experience difficulties now and then, and I am naturally, like all right-minded people, in favour of taking measures to improve the position of people from areas that are discriminated against, including by means of education. That goes without saying, like kicking down an open door. The first question that I ask myself: does this come under Europe’s jurisdiction? Is it a task to become embroiled in at European level or is this report the umpteenth example of Europe’s obsession with sickness insurance, social insurance and so forth. I think that the latter is the case. I think that the subsidiarity of this report in particular has been trampled underfoot. I think, as we can all see, that Europe is becoming a sort of Big Brother, which honestly frightens me.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Astrid Lulling (PPE-DE). (FR) Mr President, I first wish to congratulate Mrs Klaβ on her report on the situation of women in rural areas. Indeed, since I was the author of a report in the 1990s on the status of assisting spouses, particularly in the agricultural sector, like Mrs Klaβ I deplore the fact that the European Commission has not followed up this report, which was also referred to again in a 2003 resolution when we called for a revision of the 1986 Directive on equal treatment for men and women carrying out independent activities, including agricultural activities.

Those millions of invisible workers, assisting spouses working in family businesses, craft industries, commercial activities and agriculture, are mainly women. Ten years ago we recommended a European framework statute to provide, among other benefits, social rights and independent pension rights for assisting spouses working in agriculture. The Commission’s failure to act in this area despite many requests from the House is totally unacceptable. I therefore hope that it will finally take seriously our call to present an amendment to the Directive before the end of the year.

Mr President, I also wish to speak on a personal issue and state that I do not agree with the remarks of my British colleague. I would be extremely pleased if a Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality were not necessary, but if certain men, who constitute the majority, had a little more consideration for the situation of women, equal treatment and equal opportunities, we would not need this kind of committee at all.

 
  
  

- Report: Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (A6-0034/2008)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Albert Deß (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, I had originally intended to vote against this report. However, after Mr Tabajdi made an oral statement on paragraph 41 I finally voted in favour. I voted against paragraph 18, where it says that biogas has led to competition over feedingstuff. I cannot go along with that: 4 000 biogas plants in Europe certainly do not lead to a distortion of competition. Besides, biogas enables us to turn surplus agricultural land in Europe to good effect. Our colleague suggested that the common agricultural policy should be abolished; well, biogas is also a way of helping out developing countries. What is more, Europe receives 80% of Africa’s agricultural exports and 45% from Central and South America. We are not the ones preventing these countries from exporting, therefore; other countries entirely are responsible for that.

 
  
  

Written explanations of vote

 
  
  

- Report: Claude Turmes (A6-0487/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. − (PT) In its January 2007 energy package, the European Commission presented a proposal for a European Parliament and Council regulation on energy statistics. However, the European Parliament considered that this proposal contained a large number of gaps, which it sought to fill with a series of amendments.

Although we are critical to a certain extent of some amendments, we agree that, in their present state, the statistics produced by major international organisations such as Eurostat are structured by accounting instruments dating back to a time that was completely dominated by fossil fuels and designed to depict the operation of the energy sector solely from the supply point of view.

Developments over the last 30 years have gradually resulted in an increasing gap between the original aim of such instruments and their ability to represent energy realities.

As a result, there is an increasing risk as the years go by that distortion of our understanding and assessment of energy realities will lead to decisions that are not supported by the facts. It is noted that the Commission proposal is the result of work carried out in 2003, 2004 and early 2005 and largely ignores some key documents on energy issues published by the Commission itself in March 2006 (the Green Paper on energy) and in January 2007 (the energy package).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Françoise Grossetête (PPE-DE), in writing. (FR) I voted for this text, which requires the Member States to participate in collecting the necessary data to put together effective energy statistics. This is a sine qua non for enabling the EU to fulfil its stated aim: phasing in a consistent European energy policy and speaking with a single voice on the international scene.

The Commission will have to ensure that these statistics are comparable, transparent, detailed and flexible.

The EU has undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 and to make renewable energies account for 20% of total EU energy consumption by 2020, with the target set at 10% for biofuels.

The energy statistics system must adapt to these undertakings and take account of the increasing importance of energy efficiency, renewable energies, greenhouse gases, development of nuclear power and the emergence of biofuels.

Greater attention must also be paid to security of supply for the main fuels. More timely and more accurate data at EU level are needed to anticipate and coordinate EU solutions to possible supply crises.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nils Lundgren (IND/DEM), in writing. − (SV) The collection of independent and accurate statistics helps consumers as well as business and the public sector to take a variety of decisions.

I support the Council Regulation on energy statistics but entirely reject the motivation behind the contribution of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. I do not think that the great merit in collecting necessary information is that it helps the EU’s institutions to develop a consistent European energy policy or enables the EU to speak with a single voice on the international scene.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. − The goal of Mr Turmes’s ‘Energy statistics’ report is to outline a common Europe-wide framework that facilitates the availability of complete, accurate and up to date information on energy. With citizens and policy makers becoming more aware of the importance and complexity of the energy situation, we require such measures. I voted in favour of this report.

 
  
  

- Report: Bart Staes (A6-0004/2008)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE-DE), in writing. – (FR) I voted in favour of the report by my colleague Belge Bart Staes on statistics on pesticides.

I welcome the European Commission’s action, which, since the Sixth Environment Action Programme of 2002, has recognised that the use of pesticides has a significant impact on human health and on the environment. Consequently, their use should be approached from the perspective of sustainable development and should be the subject of comparable harmonised Community statistics on production, import, export and marketing with a view to the preparation and monitoring of Community legislation in this area. It is important to note that it is not just agricultural activities that utilise pesticides; they are also used by firms responsible for the maintenance of green spaces, road services and rail transport.

Finally, I support the idea of clarifying the term ‘plant protection products’ by replacing it with the term ‘pesticides’ in the Regulation and explaining clearly what it means.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Duarte Freitas (PPE-DE), in writing. − (PT) I agree with the Commission proposal because it is essential to have detailed, harmonised and up-to-date statistics on sales and use of plant protection products at Community level in order to correctly monitor the risks associated with using these products.

The proposal to create a legal framework laying down harmonised rules for the collection and dissemination of data concerning the placing on the market and use of plant protection products is vital, as the calculation of risk indicators requires suitable data but, according to experts, the existing data on plant protection products lacks accessibility, transparency and reliability.

Although I do not agree with some details in the report, such as the inclusion of biocides, these do not detract from the Commission’s basic ideas. The report in fact makes some very positive proposals, such as the inclusion of non-agricultural areas in the future legislation and the correct protection of commercial data. As a result, I voted in favour of the Staes report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Françoise Grossetête (PPE-DE), in writing. (FR) I voted for this report. We are now getting an inkling as to the disturbing long-term consequences of omnipresent waste from pesticides: cancers, endocrinal disorders, reduced male fertility, poorer immune defence systems, behavioural problems. Exposure to pesticides can also increase the risk of asthma in children.

Monitoring the risks relating to the use of pesticides thus means that we need suitable indicators. The indicators must supply data that are available, transparent, relevant and reliable in order to reduce the risks and harm to the environment and human health.

The active components of biocides are also used as plant protection products, and have almost the same effects on health and the environment. This category must also be clearly defined and taken into account in the statistics.

To allow the figures to be as realistic as possible, the statistics must cover the use of plant protection products not only in agricultural activities, but also in non-agricultural activities such as the upkeep of green spaces, road services or rail transport companies. A quantifiable reduction in the use of these products must be genuinely implemented in the long term.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. − The need for mandatory collection of figures regarding the sale, use and distribution of plant protection products is a move that I support. It will allow for the adequate evaluation of the risk to human health and the environment that these products could carry. Biocides should form part of the proposed regulation to ensure coherence of definitions with the Pesticides Package. The regulation must further include the non-agricultural use of plant protection products. I am satisfied that the report moves to meet these requirements and voted accordingly.

 
  
  

- Report: Elisabeth Jeggle (A6-0046/2008)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE-DE), in writing. – (FR) I voted in favour of the advisory report by my German colleague Elisabeth Jeggle on the increase in milk quotas from 1 April 2008. It aims to respond to the growing demand for milk within the European Union and on the global markets.

I welcome the compromise that enables the Member States to increase their production quotas by 2% on 1 April 2008. It should help to restore a balance between the countries that exceed their quotas and those that under-use them in order to limit the penalties for surpluses at EU level.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Colm Burke, Avril Doyle, Jim Higgins, Mairead McGuinness and Gay Mitchell (PPE-DE), in writing. − We support the Jeggle report on national quotas for milk, which provides for a 2% increase in the milk quota. In the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development I put forward amendments calling for a greater increase in the milk quota of 3%. That did not get through committee and did not today get through plenary. Our group supported the consensus view of allowing for a voluntary increase in the milk quota of 2%, and we urge the Council to take the lead of Parliament and give the green light for milk producers to increase production by 2% from April. We support the idea of providing for a milk quota balancing mechanism which would allow countries with overproduction to use up underused quota in other member states. It seems unjust to penalise producers who can and wish to increase production in some Member States at a time when the EU overall is not maximising its quota. That said, today's vote is a signal to producers that the quota regime is being slowly loosened up in the run-in to the phasing out of quotas in 2015.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. − (PT) Although the report of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development moves away from the Commission proposal by arguing for a voluntary 2% increase in milk quotas for Member States and ignores the end of the quota regime, the fact is that it does not take a stand against the dismantling of the current quota system or against the liberalisation of the sector after 2015, as planned by the Commissioner, but which we reject. Hence the reason for our abstention.

We fear that this 2% increase in quotas for Member States, albeit optional, will allow the large countries and their large producers to increase their production, leading to a fall in prices for producers and thus resulting in a dumping situation, which may serve as a pretext for easier justification of its subsequent dismantling.

Any quota increase should be linked to a Community study. Starting from current consumption levels in each country, this study should define the minimum desirable consumption targets, which should be accompanied by national and European policies to support an increase in production in deficit countries. In this way, the ‘regionalised’ increase of milk quotas can be promoted, particularly in the most remote and mountainous regions, which can be supplemented by the creation of a ‘premium’ to support the organised collection of milk from producers in these regions, thus guaranteeing them a decent income.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Duarte Freitas (PPE-DE), in writing. − (PT) In the milk sector, long-term stability and predictability are essential for producers and any problems in the system which should continue until 2015 must be given full attention.

The changes now proposed in terms of increasing quotas, together with a reduction in the fines indicated in the Goepel report, mark the start of the system’s dismantling well before 2015.

Despite recent variations in the milk market, both Portugal and the EU produce less than their quotas, which is why, instead of increasing these, balancing adjustments should be made between countries as 18 out of the 27 are producing below capacity.

This 2% increase, voluntary or not, is therefore an initial sign to the market that regions with a greater competitive capacity will benefit to the detriment of least-favoured regions.

Despite the Jeggle report improving the Commission proposal, I abstained from voting to express my disagreement with what is, in practice, the start of the dismantling of the milk quota system.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. − The compromise reached in the Agricultural Committee on Elisabeth Jeggle's report dealing with milk quotas is satisfactory. A 2% increase in milk quotas is needed to allow Europe to respond to increased market demand. Though I would feel that this should be implemented across the EU, giving Member States the choice to implement the quota is a better compromise than other alternatives. I do not support any amendments to the contrary and have voted in line with these views.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jean-Claude Martinez (NI), in writing. (FR) It was said that there were milk lakes, butter mountains and fridges crammed with meat. Then Brussels invented some Malthusian recipes to clear production. There were the MGQs, set-aside, slaughter premiums and quotas … for milk. Thousands of dairy cow breeders disappeared. New Zealand lorded it over the milk market.

Then things changed. There were milk shortages. Prices soared. Brussels finally realised the folly of its policy to stifle production. Thus we decide to raise the quotas by 2%. This, it should be said, is also done for a ‘soft landing’ because quotas will be abolished in 2015 and the market handed over to integral liberalism, with the consequent risks for our stockbreeders in the mountains.

Thus we ruined stockbreeders in the 1980s and prevented young people from entering the market, since it was not possible to ‘buy’ the operator’s ‘licence’, which was the quota. Now we are heading for increased desertification in mountainous agricultural areas if there are no longer any quotas to roll out as a safety net.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andreas Mölzer (NI), in writing. (DE) Droughts and feed shortages, for instance in Australia, have led to a rise in milk prices. Some Member States have not exhausted their original milk quotas even now, while others are reaching the limit or even struggling to remain within it. For that reason milk quotas have in any event been raised by 0.5% in some countries. If a further 2% rise in the quota were now to be applied simultaneously, the delicate balance between supply and demand would be severely disrupted and milk prices would fall as a result.

The main losers would be small farmers in rural areas, who have a role as guardians of cultural heritage and are dependent on milk production but have no opportunity to produce in bulk. Farmers, not unjustifiably, feel they are being exploited, while consumers are being expected to pick up the bill for increased milk and food prices, none of which reaches the small producers. It is high time we did something about this.

A temporary market situation must not result in these planned measures with their long-term effects. Consequently I have voted against the Jeggle report on a further increase in milk quotas.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Athanasios Pafilis (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (EL) The organisation of the milk market is subservient to the sector’s monopoly undertakings, which control most of the market and have started to advocate its full liberalisation in order to maximise profits.

The Commission’s proposal for a ‘soft landing’ policy and a 2% increase in quotas every year until 2014, when the current regulation expires, amounts to an intensification of the unequal distribution of quotas between Member States. The proposal would slowly kill off small and medium-sized livestock enterprises, which are struggling to survive, particularly as a result of the steep increases in feed prices.

We are radically opposed to the liberalisation of the market in the dairy sector. We believe that a non-linear increase in national quotas is vital so that additional increases can be given to Member States where production quotas have traditionally been insufficient. This is true of Greece, where production covers barely 50% of domestic consumption.

We support the livestock farmers clamouring for direct support measures for small and medium-sized enterprises, above all in mountainous and island regions, and in other particularly problematic ones, especially when the current situation is leading to the abandonment of agricultural and livestock activity.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ole Christensen, Dan Jørgensen, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, Christel Schaldemose and Britta Thomsen (PSE), in writing. − (DA) The Danish members of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament have voted against the report on the CAP ‘health check’, as the report opposes improving the cross-compliance system and transferring money from direct support to rural development, as the Commission had proposed.

In the delegation’s opinion it is necessary for environmental reasons, among others, to introduce 20% compulsory modulation and to strengthen the cross-compliance system.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE), in writing. (SV) I am voting against this report because I think that an increase in quotas should have been allocated to producers of organic milk. The increase which is now proposed will mainly benefit the large-scale producers at the expense of small producers.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Brian Simpson (PSE), in writing. − On behalf of the British Labour Members I wish to explain the reasons why we voted as we did on this report.

We strongly support the 2% increase in milk quotas for the year 2008/2009 proposed by the Commission, allowing European farmers to respond to increased market demands. We have farmers in the EU more than capable of responding to the increased global demands for milk and it would be unacceptable to deny them the opportunity to take advantage of the favourable market situation.

We are, however, unhappy that Parliament supports a voluntary, as opposed to compulsory, 2% increase in milk quotas. For me, the 2% increase is also a step in giving milk producers the option to produce more and thereby helping the transition to greater market orientation. This is in line with the soft landing ahead of the milk quota system in 2015, as envisaged in the CAP Health Check.

While I understand that many countries do not fulfil their current quota allocations, including the UK, I strongly believe, that in line with the abolition of milk quotas in 2015, we need to get farmers used to the idea of having the option to produce more.

(Explanation of vote abbreviated in accordance with Rule 163(1) of the Rules of Procedure).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marek Siwiec (PSE), in writing. − I was in favour of the position that the EU milk market should be opened up more rapidly than planned in an existing draft proposal and voted for an increase of the milk quota, although an increase of 5% as demanded by Poland was not presented to plenary. No majority for this proposal could be found in the EP.

Poland’s restrictive milk quota threatens to transform the country from a net exporter of dairy products to a net importer within five to seven years.

The EU allocated Poland by far the largest quota offered to any of the 10 accession countries, representative of Poland’s position as the EU-25’s fourth largest milk producer when it joined the EU in May 2004. Poland’s quota, nevertheless, is seen as small relative to the larger quotas of Europe’s top three milk producers – Germany, France and Britain.

The quotas are the legacy of bygone era when Europe’s dairies produced infamous lakes of milk and the EU had to help to keep prices from collapsing.

The raising of the milk quota can be seen as the beginning of phasing out the quotas as the EU milk quota system is due to expire in 2015.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ewa Tomaszewska (UEN), in writing. (PL) I voted in favour of the adoption of Amendments 18-21, namely block 1. I did so in view of the shortage of milk for domestic consumption and for export in European countries, since this shortage means that children in poorer families are malnourished and Member States’ opportunities for export reduced. The amendments were in fact rejected, but I nevertheless voted in favour of adoption of the document as a whole, because increasing milk quotas by 2% is at least a step in the right direction, even if it is too small a step. Increasing quotas by 3% and then abolishing them altogether in the future, as our Parliament has already called for in the course of debates, would be a far more beneficial solution. It is, however, preferable to increase quotas even if only by 2% than to make no changes at all.

 
  
  

- Report: Lutz Goepel (A6-0047/2008)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alessandro Battilocchio (PSE), in writing. − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I voted in favour of the Goepel report on the CAP 'Health Check' to honour the work done in the Committee on Agriculture by the Socialist delegation. It achieved acceptable results on matters which have always been very important for the development of agriculture in the European Union.

The results are still not the best possible but we hope that, thanks to the efforts and the spirit of compromise shown by Mr Capoulas and my other colleagues on the AGRI Committee, who in some instances have disregarded their own national interests, it will be possible to achieve much more ambitious results at the next stage, namely in the legislative package to be unveiled in May and examined under the French Presidency. We need to be more ambitious, in particular as regards a fairer redistribution of aid, greater transparency, better rural development policies, an effective safety net for risk management in the event of natural disasters, and the role of agriculture and its contribution to combating climate change as well as concerning biofuels.

Today’s result enables the European Parliament to hold a broader debate on the future of the CAP, which must be adapted to social and economic change while continuing to be one of the mainstays of Europe.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bernadette Bourzai (PSE), in writing. – (FR) It was important for the House to issue its opinion on the general guidelines for the future ‘Health Check’.

The Socialist Group in the European Parliament has won a number of major victories, such as the criticism of the decoupling of aid (livestock breeding and small crops), CAP objectives in terms of food safety, preservation of ecosystems, land upgrading, the redistributive effect of degressive capping, of modulation, safety nets, recognition of the role of interprofessional associations, agriculture’s contribution to climate change, etc.

However, unlike the PSE Group, I was keen to support a number of points:

- partial decoupling of direct aid must be maintained for animal premiums, but care must be taken not to include only intensive or large-scale animal husbandry (para. 26, para. 32)

- historical references cannot gauge certain farmers’ compliance with high environmental standards (para. 16)

- maintenance of progressive capping of direct aid, since this would permit a fairer distribution of CAP resources (para. 67)

- criticism of surveys on GMOs, reminder that it is impossible to implement coexistence, support for the precautionary principle (Amendment 30)

- rejection of the abolition of milk quotas in 2015 (para. 76)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Colm Burke, Avril Doyle, Jim Higgins, Mairead McGuinness and Gay Mitchell (PPE-DE), in writing. − We support the general thrust of the report on the Health Check on the CAP. However, it is important to point out that the particular situation for Ireland which has fully decoupled all direct payments from production needs to be taken into consideration. In particular, the commitments made to all farmers in the Agenda 2000 reforms that there would be a reduction in bureaucracy. So far the experience has not been entirely positive.

On the specific issue of maintaining the payments to producers, we cannot accept a move towards a flat rate payment per hectare regime. Farmers have budgeted on the current system remaining in place until 2013. In addition, moves to increase modulation and take more of the direct payments from producers are unwelcome. We would have welcomed a high increase in milk quota but in line with our view on the Jeggle report we have accepted the consensus opinion on a 2% increase for the coming marketing year.

In the long term, however, it is the threat posed by a bad deal at the WTO which looms large over EU agriculture. Such a deal must be resisted.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Edite Estrela (PSE), in writing. − (PT) I voted in favour of the Goepel report on the CAP ‘Health Check’ because it calls for essential measures to support the development of agriculture, one of the largest sectors in the European Union.

In this respect, I would highlight the report’s argument that funds must be made available to maintain the dairy industry in regions such as the Azores. I would also highlight the significant commitment of Mr Capoulas Santos and the important contribution made by his amendments.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. − (PT) This resolution’s criticism of the Commission proposal is inadequate, although it does include two of the many proposals made by ourselves. However, its general approach is negative, particularly as it insists on decoupling production subsidies by calling on the Commission to push through the decoupling policy at a faster rate. However, experience has shown that decoupling direct aid from agricultural production has harmful effects: hence our vote against the motion for a resolution.

However, we do feel that the report’s rejection of any renationalisation of the common agricultural policy (CAP) is positive, as, too, is the call for measures to restructure and boost key agricultural sectors (such as the dairy, beef cattle and sheep sectors). We are also pleased that the proposals we made on the need for the European Commission to take account, in the World Trade Organisation negotiations, of the specific characteristics of agricultural production as a food production sector and a structuring element for territorial balance, preservation of the environment and the safeguarding of adequate levels of food safety have been adopted.

We also regard as positive the adoption of our call to the Commission and the Member States to take the necessary measures to prevent speculative activity, capturing of the market in food products and the formation of cartels by food companies.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Christofer Fjellner (PPE-DE), in writing. (SV) The current health check on the common agricultural policy offered the Commission and the European Parliament a chance to take ambitious and determined steps in order to get the continued development of the policy under control. It is crucial that the reform of the common agricultural policy continue to develop on market-oriented lines, which will mean that consumer choice is the key factor in farmers’ decisions on production, while at the same time we reduce the total cost of the agricultural policy. The current strong growth in global demand for agricultural products provides a favourable environment in which to hasten the deregulation of the agricultural policy.

The moderate delegation deplores the fact that neither the Commission nor the European Parliament has taken the opportunity to do this. We have therefore voted against the report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Glyn Ford (PSE), in writing. − I abstained on the final vote on this report. While it contains many good elements it does not go far enough. Any CAP reform must first decrease subsidy and increase the role of the market in agriculture. Second, look at promoting the wider rural economy rather than focusing on farming alone. Third, it must promote ‘good’ food rather than put quantity before quality. Only on this basis can we establish a CAP that matches the needs and requirements of the new millennium.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Duarte Freitas (PPE-DE), in writing. − (PT) Except for the issue of milk quotas, I regard the Commission proposal as highly appropriate. The Goepel report improves it in many aspects, although it does make some amendments with which I cannot agree.

On the one hand, I support the idea of capping subsidies, as proposed by the Commission, because, bearing in mind the ever-increasing weight of public opinion on subsidies for farmers and following the implementation of the SPR (Soil Protection Review), which has made the system clearer and more transparent, certain imbalances have become apparent. It is therefore essential to find a fair way of limiting the level of subsidies paid to large farmers.

On the other hand, I feel that keeping the funds from modulation in the respective regions will not help to solve the major regional differences that exist in European agriculture.

Finally, as regards milk quotas, I am against the 2% increase in 2008 and also the reduction in fines as I consider that these measures will result in the milk quota system being dismantled before 2015, with harmful consequences for the most vulnerable regions that depend on milk production and for all their farmers who have invested in this sector and will therefore see their expectations come to nothing.

For all these reasons, I abstained from voting.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bruno Gollnisch (NI), in writing. – (FR) The CAP ‘Health Check’ established by the Commission is not a health check at all: it is an unconfessed new reform. It is also another step towards the economic reorganisation of the world on which Brussels’s Europe has been working for years in Washington’s footsteps: in southern countries and the United States, agriculture; in the north, services and industry, amid fierce competition from emerging nations.

European agriculture is simply sacrificed, and will soon be handed over to market forces alone; a rigged market, too, for it has been left defenceless against imports and denied access to export markets.

Agriculture is not a sector like any other. Since it feeds human beings, it is a matter of national independence and sovereignty. The quality of foodstuffs affects public health. Working the land affects land-use planning, protection of the environment, biodiversity, management of water resources, organisation and population of rural areas… but it is still a productive activity.

Dispensing with all proactive agricultural policies is worse than a crime: it is a huge mistake. It is a great pity that, apart from a few positive elements, the rapporteur did not question this logic.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hélène Goudin and Nils Lundgren (IND/DEM), in writing. (SV) In Sweden both the previous and the present governments have made positive statements on the forthcoming ‘health check’ of the EU’s long-term budget and the common agricultural policy over the next few years in the expectation that it will lead to very considerable changes and reforms.

Now we see the Federalist majority in the European Parliament taking the view that the Heads of State or Government undertook in 2002 to maintain the first-pillar agricultural funds in full at the same level until 2013 and that that undertaking should be respected.

How can the 2002 agreement be interpreted in such different ways? The Christian Democrat/Conservative and Social Democrat majority in the European Parliament thinks that reforms are only to take place after 2013. The Swedish Social Democrats and Alliance for Sweden have told voters in Sweden that reforms will be introduced directly into the long-term budget on the basis of the ‘health check’ in 2008-2009.

Which side is interpreting the 2002 agreement correctly?

Junilistan considers unequivocally that reforms to the common agricultural policy and a reduction of its costs in the EU budget must take place directly after the completion of the health check. All other solutions would be a betrayal of the voters in the six Member States which, in 2005, did not want to expand the EU’s long-term budget.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Françoise Grossetête (PPE-DE), in writing. (FR) I voted for this report, which recommends, in particular, taking into consideration the special characteristics of regions in difficulty and sensitive sectors such as livestock farming, and making the rules for farmers simpler.

The aim is to improve the functioning of the common agricultural policy on the basis of the experience gained since 2003, and to adapt this to the new challenges and possibilities presented in 2008 in a European Union with 27 Member States.

The report claims that direct aid will still be necessary after 2013, not only in the event of problems on the markets, but also to offset the services rendered by farmers to society and the very high standards in terms of the environment, health and animal welfare.

In relation to risk management, the Commission should receive a message from the House in this report in the perspective of the future CAP reform.


Private or mixed insurance schemes must be developed as a matter of urgency with public financial backing, ensuring that the Member States remain on a level playing field. The Commission should consider introducing a European reinsurance system in the future for climate-related or environmental disasters, and the risk-prevention measures should be funded under the first pillar (support for the agricultural markets).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marian Harkin (ALDE), in writing. − I strongly support the notion that we need to secure appropriate funding for rural development, many people living in rural areas are not directly involved in agriculture or have a part time involvement in agriculture, in order to ensure balanced regional development we must ensure a balance of development between urban and rural. However, this must not be attained at the expense of the first pillar. The development of rural areas is a worthy objective in its own right and must not be constrained by relying on modulated funds.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ian Hudghton (Verts/ALE), in writing. − I voted for the successful amendment 29, which calls on the Commission and the Member States to take measures to prevent capturing of the market in food products and the formation of cartels by food companies, and I hope that some action will be taken to prevent supermarkets from forcing food producers to accept economically unsustainable prices for their produce. I also supported amendment 30, which sought more restrictions on GMO crops, noting that it is impossible for GMO crops to coexist with conventional and/or organic crops, and calling for the withdrawal of the GMO species already introduced by some Member States. Such action has clear public support, as shown by opinion polls carried out thus far.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Astrid Lulling (PPE-DE), in writing. (DE) In order to prevent high-quality food in Europe from becoming scarce and very expensive, many people must now come to understand that agriculture in the EU needs to be competitive, sustainable, multifunctional and comprehensive, as well as being competitive internationally.

We still need the CAP, and it must ensure that agriculture is reliable, predictable and stable in the future.

The compromise we are voting on today represents a commendable job of work by our rapporteur, Lutz Goepel. This compromise does not fully satisfy me, however, particularly because the proposed modulation of over EUR 10 000, even if it is apparently only 1%, cannot reasonably be expected of farmers in my country. The fact that these resources are to be returned to the regions in which they accrue is small consolation for individual farmers. Just imagine if we were to impose pay cuts on employees, for example in the public sector.

The proposals on a basic safety net and a crisis management system are welcome.

It must also be clear that Article 69 is not a panacea, even though it is acceptable to make more use of these facilities to finance measures to assist, for example, young farmers, afforestation and early harvests.

Even though we still have no right of codecision on agricultural policy, I would nonetheless caution the Commission against being too obstinate.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. − The CAP Health Check will set the tone for future reform in this area and Lutz Goepel's report on the Health Check is one that I have trouble fully supporting. The Health Check should truly look towards creating a market driven sector that is committed to rural and environmental sustainability. We need to move away from the culture of protectionism and market distorting subsidies that the current CAP facilitates. The policy should also encourage third countries, especially developing countries, to trade with us. I have reflected these concerns in the way I have voted.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dimitrios Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (EL) If it is to succeed, the review of the common agricultural policy demands different priorities and, of course, greater resources. The abandonment of agricultural land and reduced production are leading to the decline of the countryside and the devaluation of the role of the primary sector in the social and economic framework. We call for a radical reshaping of the CAP. Measures are needed to help small and medium-sized farmers to continue production. The rural population, diversity, environmental protection and public health must be maintained. We seek a common policy of agricultural insurance against all eventualities relating not only to weather, but also to food and market instability. We oppose the priority of harmonising agricultural policies with the WTO’s targets and negotiations. We seek an agricultural policy that provides high-quality, cheap food for all, and for this reason I am voting against this report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Luís Queiró (PPE-DE), in writing. − (PT) All policies must clearly correspond to a need and must effectively meet this need. Given the current situation in terms of agricultural markets, consumption patterns, environmental requirements and future trends, the assumptions, concepts and rules of the common agricultural policy must be reconsidered and reformed. The central axis of this reform must include certain key ideas, such as the importance of the rural world’s viability, the need to prevent the disappearance of European agriculture, farmers’ incomes, the need to bring into this market young entrepreneurs and creative models of production and management, and also consumers’ interests, which, even though we are all consumers, are very often not vigorously represented.

Despite the immediate disadvantages that a generalised fall in agricultural prices may bring for certain sectors of society, in both developed and developing economies, this reform will have a series of virtues (there will immediately be higher consumption among people in countries experiencing accelerated development) and potential benefits, which must be taken into account. This is the approach that I hope will be adopted, by both the EU institutions and the national governments.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Olle Schmidt (ALDE), in writing. (SV) There are two things that an EU supporter has to explain (if not defend) when he goes home and talks about his work in the EU. One is Parliament’s travelling circus shuttling back and forth to Strasbourg. The other is the question of subsidies to agriculture. In both cases the present system is equally impossible to defend – and explain. There are no good reasons for us to travel to Strasbourg. There is also no reason why EU taxpayers should subsidise the British Royal Family, which is currently one of the main beneficiaries of the system, while at the same time African producers are excluded.

The Goepel report adopted entirely the wrong approach; I therefore voted against it. I did so mainly because I think its intentions point in the wrong direction: more direct support, fewer reforms, less market orientation. The Commission has made a fair amount of progress in changing over to a more up-to-date system of support to agriculture. It is regrettable that Parliament seems to want to turn the clock back.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Brian Simpson (PSE), in writing. − On behalf of the British Labour members I wish to explain the reasons why we voted as we did on this important report.

First and foremost we believe a thorough overhaul of the CAP is needed so that we can move away from direct payments to farmers towards a system that encourages rural sustainability. In this regard we would like to have seen full decoupling of direct payments but appreciate that many Member States have a difficulty with this.

A key point for me is that reform of the CAP should not be seen as an issue of big farms versus little farms. It should be an issue of efficient versus inefficient.

Therefore I and the British Labour delegation will be voting in favour of amendments in favour of increased funding for rural development, opening up trade with developing countries, and against amendments that seek to employ protectionist measures for EU farmers. We would like to see the Commission proposing the scrapping of degressive capping and addressing the issue of direct payments in a more radical way.

We will not vote against the report but abstain in the hope that when the legislative proposals come forward Parliament will recognise the need for radical reform.

(Abbreviated in accordance with Rule 163(1) of the Rules of Procedure)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Catherine Stihler (PSE), in writing. − The need to reform the CAP has to be on-going. Unfortunately Parliament’s report is not ambitious enough.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Daniel Strož (GUE/NGL), in writing. − (CS) Regarding the report by Mr Lutz Goepel on the CAP ‘Health Check’, since I am one of the Czech Republic’s representatives in the European Parliament I consider it my duty to draw urgent attention to the following facts. The Proposal by the Commission for the revision of the common agricultural policy should result in legislative texts that the Council and the European Parliament will table in May 2008 at the latest. The Czech Republic fully supports European agriculture that is dynamic and centred on sustainable development of farming and food industries, whose priorities are to guarantee both food safety and energy security. For the Czech Republic, modulation and degressivity of direct payments are the most vital measures among those to be debated in the course of the revision of the CAP.

Measures such as degressivity – reducing direct payments according to the size of farms – would have a selective impact on only some Member States and a negative effect on the competitiveness of the agricultural sector in countries like the Czech Republic. At the same time these measures would clearly lead to the organisational break-up of farms. For these reasons in particular it is difficult for the Czech Republic to accept the current proposal for modulation and degressivity, and not just the Czech Republic, I would imagine.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marianne Thyssen (PPE-DE), in writing. − (NL) In the Lisbon Treaty the five CAP objectives remain unaltered in relation to the current Treaty. The Treaty stipulates, among other things, that reasonable prices must be ensured. This objective is now more relevant than ever for consumers.

Another problem is the efficiency of European agricultural policy at present. We must, after all, not be blind to the negative side of the current CAP: farmers must be able to earn an income but also work efficiently so that young people also continue to choose a career in agriculture.

I have often repeated the words of Ms Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, when she says that you do not need to be sick to have a health check. We must dare to ask whether the current agricultural policy is adapted to the development of the (world) market and to the needs of the EU27. Furthermore, the debate regarding the ‘Health Check’ is an opportunity for the agricultural policy to remain accountable to public opinion.

Ladies and gentlemen, European citizens expect food security, food safety and a stake in food sovereignty. With this own-initiative report, Parliament is laying its cards on the table and delivering a solid text to the Commission.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georgios Toussas (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (EL) The proposals for a ‘health check’ of the CAP constitute a new attack on small and medium-sized farmers.

Small and medium-sized farmers are suffering from the results of the 2003 CAP review: unemployment has risen because thousands of small and medium-sized holdings have disappeared.

In Greece, tobacco-growing has fallen by 70%, two in five sugar factories have closed, agricultural revenue has dwindled and vineyards are set to decrease.

The Commission’s new proposals are divorcing aid from production and transferring direct aid resources for farmers to the second pillar, to the benefit mainly of businessmen. The proposals completely abolish intervention and reduce agricultural subsidies from 2009. This will hasten the demise of small and medium-sized holdings.

These measures are intended to achieve greater support from landowners and multinational food companies. Thus land will be more rapidly concentrated, production and trade in agricultural products will be in the hands of the few, and the CAP’s fundamental inequalities and injustices will become more acute (20% of holdings receive 80% of subsidies). The references to agriculture contributing to the protection of the environment are hypocritical, since the eradication of thousands of small and medium-sized holdings is adding to the devastation of the regions, while the use of crops for biofuels will contribute to the increase in food prices.

We are voting against the EU’s proposals for a ‘health check’ of the CAP.

 
  
  

- Report: Christa Klaß (A6-0031/2008)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Edite Estrela (PSE), in writing. − (PT) I voted in favour of the report by Mrs Klaß on the situation of women in rural areas of the European Union because I consider that rural development policies must take account of the gender dimension. In this way they can help to achieve the targets of the Lisbon Strategy in terms of growth, education, employment and social cohesion.

I believe that women play a vital role in promoting local and social growth. This is why the proposals to improve the living conditions of women in rural areas, by, for example, creating education and training infrastructures at all levels, promoting equal access to the labour market, providing incentives to encourage women’s entrepreneurship and developing high-quality social and health services, are essential for sustainable rural development.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. − (PT) We welcome the fact that various amendments have been adopted which improve the final report, including one of our proposals stressing the need to give the greatest possible value to the work of women, including that of immigrant women, who do not belong to families owning farms but provide labour in the fields and are especially affected by discrimination in the world of agriculture. We therefore voted in favour of this report.

However, we regret that our other proposals on the situation of women in rural areas were not adopted. This situation is heavily influenced by the general agricultural situation and women are suffering the consequences of unfair measures in the CAP (common agricultural policy), which have led to the increasing abandonment of small and medium-sized holdings and family-based agriculture.

We therefore continue to stress the need for an in-depth review of the CAP with priority being given to the protection of family-based agriculture and small and medium-sized holdings in order to support production and guarantee incomes.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Genowefa Grabowska (PSE), in writing. (PL) Whilst not undervaluing the importance of towns and large conurbations, it is important to keep in mind that the major part of European social and economic life takes place in rural areas. That is why I was delighted to welcome the report by Mrs Klaß on the situation of women in rural areas. Our debate on this subject dovetails appropriately with the general debate linked to the celebration of International Women’s Day.

I support the main idea contained in this report, namely that the development of rural areas cannot be based exclusively on agriculture. The EU’s agricultural policy aims to ensure genuine sustainable development for rural areas, thus providing the local population, women included, with additional opportunities to better develop their potential. This involves women assuming a more important role in the life of local communities, playing their part in the creation of new enterprises and becoming involved in the developing service sector.

It should be strongly emphasised that the governing principle that should dominate when it comes to defining the operation of rural areas is equality of opportunity between men and women. One of the ways in which this may be assessed is in terms of women’s access to the labour market. Unfortunately, female employment indicators are lowest in rural areas, because women who work on farms are not always counted as part of the labour force. Such women also have fewer opportunities for paid jobs than women in urban areas.

This unfavourable situation can only be remedied by changing the mentality of the local population and through the new financial incentives the EU is making available precisely to rural areas.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ian Hudghton (Verts/ALE), in writing. − I supported the Klaß report, which deals with many important issues facing women in our rural areas. Low pay, lack of accessible services such as childcare, and social exclusion are issues which are all too common within rural communities. Member States must work to ensure that these issues are addressed and that living conditions in rural communities are fair for all our citizens.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jörg Leichtfried (PSE), in writing. (DE) I am in favour of measures to assist women in rural regions because this particular group is severely affected by unemployment and, as a result, by poverty and possible social exclusion.

As mentioned by Mrs Klaß in her report, regional policy and the development of these often disadvantaged regions and their populations are among the European Union's political priorities. Given that women's rights to equal opportunities are being undermined even in economically prosperous regions, it is essential to provide support for women in poorer rural regions and develop their opportunities to participate in working life.

I would like to draw particular attention to the current inadequate regulations on insurance cover for assisting spouses, most of whom are women. Here, a swift and efficient amendment of the law is required. The lack of legal status in relation to the right to maternity and sick leave, especially for self-employed women and assisting spouses, must also be improved.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. − I welcome the Christa Klaß report on the situation of women in rural areas of the EU. The goal of trying to reduce feminine migration from rural zones has my full support. By introducing measures to recognise, protect and promote the role of women in the rural sector we will not only improve equality between men and women in such areas, but stimulate economic growth and encourage sustainable development in the sector. I voted in favour of the report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Véronique Mathieu (PPE-DE), in writing. (FR) Equality of the sexes in rural areas ought to arouse much greater EU interest. The situation of women’s rights, in fact, and their place within rural society require substantially more determination by the Member States and the Commission.

On the one hand, women are subject to a particularly unfavourable legal status when they work in the agricultural sector as assisting spouses. The European Commission must make a clean break with this legal inequality, which deprives certain European women of access to social security, maternity and sick leave, or acquisition of pension rights in the event of divorce.

On the other hand, there is insufficient support for economic initiatives and female entrepreneurship. The Member States must, for instance, offer economic incentives to businesses that diversify women’s work, and in a more general sense support the development of infrastructure and new technology in rural environments. By and large, the Commission must conduct a more thorough analysis of programmes to encourage rural development from the female standpoint.

Rural areas account for 56% of the EU’s population. I wish to lend my wholehearted support to the proposals in Mrs Klaβ’s report, because women can certainly contribute their dynamism and creativity.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lydia Schenardi (NI), in writing. – (FR) The situation of women in rural areas has been discussed many times at numerous international conferences on women (1975, 1980, 1985 and 1995) on agricultural reform and rural development (1979) and on population (1994), and also by the European Commission and Parliament. The accumulation of texts, however, is rather pointless since the observations are always the same: an increase in the ‘masculinisation’ of the rural population and no improvement in the status of spouses assisting with agricultural operations.

It is high time strategies were developed to curb the exodus of women from rural areas, particularly women with qualifications. It is also time to take account of the development of the broad guidelines worldwide, particularly the removals of controls on trade and finance, and the privatisation of agriculture in a strictly regulated and quota-ridden commercial sector.

Times are changing, but not so the mindsets and customs that all too often prefer the role of women in agriculture to be mere co-operators or unpaid employees, frequently working in strictly family businesses.

The report proposes changes to this status and we will thus vote in favour of it.

 
  
  

- Report: Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (A6-0034/2008)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bernadette Bourzai (PSE), in writing. – (FR) I wish to congratulate Csaba Tabajdi on his excellent report, and the research and summary he has carried out so successfully.

However, I wish to state that I voted against paragraph 27:

‘27. Stresses, in this context, the importance of green gene technology and calls on the Member States and the Commission to put more effort into researching the latest seed and plant protection technologies, to ensure that biogas production does not compete with high-quality food production and to enable the proportion of biomass per area unit to be significantly increased;’

I feel biogases ought to be supplied mainly by agricultural waste. It is not a matter of developing GMO seeds and pesticides in order to promote a much more intensive form of agriculture. This would harm the environment and cancel out all the advantages of biofuels. As the title of the report infers, we must encourage sustainable agriculture above all.

I will be responsible for the opinion of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development on the draft directive on promotion of renewable energy sources.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. − (PT) This report covers several important issues and makes some findings which we support. In particular we agree that, before using ‘dedicated’ biomass, we should firstly use the various sources of waste that have an energy and an economic value, thus reducing or solving serious environmental problems. It is also good that the report confirms that biogas has more energy potential than liquid biofuels, a fact that has been ignored by the European Commission.

However, we feel that certain issues should have been considered in greater detail, in particular the difference between biogas and the extremely important biomethane, which is an upgrade of biogas. A clear distinction must be made between biogas and biomethane. The latter can and must be produced from waste water treatment plants, sanitary landfill and industrial waste, plus, of course, livestock effluents. Switzerland and Sweden are already producing biomethane and using natural gas networks for its distribution. In the Gothenburg area in the south of Sweden, there are already around 4 500 vehicles powered solely by biomethane. In the US, there are numerous producers of biomethane, which is distributed in the form of liquefied biomethane.

We therefore stress the need for the European Commission to give its full attention and priority to the funding of biomethane projects across Europe.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Duarte Freitas (PPE-DE), in writing. − (PT) The Tabajdi report stresses the potential of agricultural biogas and suggests adopting a directive on biogas production.

I voted in favour of the Tabajdi report because I believe that using biogas has two benefits: firstly it can contribute to the security and sustainability of the EU’s energy supply, and secondly it allows farmers to develop new sources of income.

The contribution of biogas to achieving the targets recently set by the Commission in terms of the contribution of renewable energies by 2020 could be particularly important.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bogusław Liberadzki (PSE), in writing. (PL) I voted in favour of the report on sustainable agriculture and biogas: a need for review of EU legislation (2007/2107(INI)).

The rapporteur, Mr Tabajdi, has rightly pointed out that it is time to begin exploiting the energy potential of biogas. As he indicates, biogas may come to replace natural gas.

I agree with the statement that investment in the production of biogas from different sources should be encouraged, drawing on EU funds allocated to regional and rural development for that purpose.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. − As highlighted in Mr Tabajdi’s report on Sustainable agriculture and biogas, there is a large potential for biogas that the EU has yet to exploit. The call for the Commission to produce a coherent biogas policy is one that I support. There is a need for biogas policy formulation to be encouraged across the EU if we want Europe to adequately diversify its energy production. Through biogas we have an opportunity both to increase renewable energy production and contribute to sustainable economic, agricultural and rural development. I support the report’s recommendations.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andreas Mölzer (NI), in writing. (DE) Biogas installations operated by small farmers are a rational solution: here, slurry and other waste can be utilised for the production of biogas before being composted into high-grade fertiliser or coupled to fodder drying, in both cases closing the ecological cycle.

An increase in support for biogas installations is to be rejected, however, in order to exclude the possibility that high-value foodstuffs will be wasted on fuel and energy production. Under no circumstances should major companies lease cropland from farmers for the production of so-called bioenergy and biofuels, with this land thus being lost to food production, leading to a situation in which we are inundated with monocultures, pesticides and genetic technologies while forfeiting our self-sufficiency capacity in food production.

Optimising existing systems and introducing processes for the more efficient use of these systems are to be welcomed, but other issues are problematical for the reasons stated, and I have therefore voted against the report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andrzej Jan Szejna (PSE), in writing. (PL) I voted in favour of the report by Mr Tabajdi on sustainable agriculture and biogas: a need for review of EU legislation.

In my view, there are significant economic and environmental reasons for supporting the motion for a European Parliament resolution on sustainable agriculture and biogas, especially as this will entail the need to undertake a more detailed study of European Union legislation on the matter.

This would represent considerable progress towards achieving the target set by the European Commission in the White Paper with regard to increasing the amount of energy obtained from renewable sources from 6% in 1995 to 12% in 2010.

The potential for biogas recovered from natural materials such as annual manure has still not been fully exploited. If production of such biogas were intensified, not only would this contribute to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, it would also help to increase competitiveness by providing farmers with possible new sources of income.

It should be remembered that this is one of the cheapest sources of heat energy. It would be of significant help to Member States of the Union as they endeavour to become less dependent on natural gas supplies.

I support the stance of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, which is urging the European Commission to incorporate the new biogas production strategy into the Kyoto mechanism at the earliest opportunity.

 

7. Corrections to votes and voting intentions: see Minutes
MPphoto
 
 

  President. We have finished our work for the afternoon. The sitting is suspended. It will resume at 3 p.m. for a formal sitting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the European Parliament.

(The sitting was suspended at 1.05 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR PÖTTERING
President

 

8. Formal sitting - Celebration of the European Parliament's fiftieth anniversary
  

(Short performance by the European Union Youth Orchestra, conducted by Pavel Kotla)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − That was a beautiful rendition by the European Union Youth Orchestra with Pavel Kotla conducting. Thank you very much.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you all very warmly here to the Chamber to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the constituent session of the European Parliamentary Assembly. First and foremost, may I suggest that together, we welcome by acclamation all the former Presidents who are with us here today: Emilio Colombo, Lord Henry Plumb, Enrique Barón Crespo, Egon Klepsch, Klaus Hänsch, José Maria Gil Robles, Nicole Fontaine and Josep Borrell Fontelles. Welcome to all of you, esteemed former Presidents of the European Parliament.

(Sustained applause)

May I also extend a very warm welcome to Janez Janša, the President-in-Office of the European Council, and José Manuel Durão Barroso, the President of the European Commission. Of course, Mr Barroso, you are a familiar face here in the Chamber, but you are especially welcome today.

(Applause)

It is a particular pleasure to welcome Lluís Maria de Puig, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, here to the Chamber of the European Parliament. A warm welcome to you.

(Applause)

It is a pleasure to welcome the Presidents and Speakers of the Parliaments of Belgium, Herman van Rompuy, of Italy, Fausto Bertinotti, and of the Dutch Senate, Yvonne Timmerman-Buck, who together with other representatives of the Parliaments of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United Kingdom have joined us here in the European Parliament today and whom I would also like to welcome.

(Applause)

I welcome the Presidents of the other European institutions: for the European Court of Justice, Peter Jann, the President of the First Chamber; for the European Court of Auditors, its President Vítor Caldeira; for the European Economic and Social Committee, President Dimitris Dimitriadis; for the Committee of the Regions, Luc Van den Brande; and the Ombudsman, Nikoforos Diamandouros. Welcome to the European Parliament.

(Applause)

It is a pleasure to welcome the local and regional representatives: the Mayor of Strasbourg, Fabienne Keller, the President of the Regional Council of Alsace, Adrien Zeller, the President of the Conseil Général du Bas-Rhin, Philippe Richert, and the Prefect of the Region of Alsace and Bas-Rhin, Jean-Marc Rebière. Welcome to the European Parliament.

(Applause)

Ladies and gentlemen, seat 146 is occupied by our colleague Astrid Lulling, who is the only one of us to have been a Member of the European Parliament in the days before it was directly elected.

(Sustained applause)

Almost exactly 50 years ago, on 19 March 1958, the Common Assembly of the three European institutions – the European Economic Community, the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Coal and Steel Community – convened for the first time here in Strasbourg in what was then the 'Maison de l'Europe'. The Assembly consisted 'of representatives of the peoples of the States brought together in the Community', as stated in the Treaty of Rome, which had entered into force a few weeks earlier.

Today, we are celebrating this anniversary because we are the direct successors to that Parliamentary Assembly, and its original 142 Members, in a line of continuity.

The first President of this Common Assembly was the great Robert Schuman. In his inaugural address, he said that the Assembly would play a key role in developing the European spirit, 'for which', he said, 'the Assembly was and remains the crucible'. I believe that this is as true now as it was then. At the same time, Robert Schuman warned his colleagues, at that constituent session, that parliamentary work with 142 Members – from six countries at that time – would require discipline from everyone and of course this is even more relevant today, with 785 Members from 27 countries, as we all know!

Not long after the constituent session, our predecessors began to call their institution the 'European Parliament', albeit informally at first, for the term did not appear in the European Communities' founding Treaties. It was not until four years later, in March 1962, that the Parliamentary Assembly took a decision to style itself the 'European Parliament'.

Although the founding Treaties of the European Communities stated that the Assembly 'shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States' and that 'the Council shall, acting unanimously … lay down the appropriate provisions, which it shall recommend to Member States for adoption in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements', it was not until 1976 that the Council – on the basis of the European Parliament's recommendation of 20 September 1976 – adopted a legislative act for the conducting of direct and universal elections to the European Parliament.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Parliamentary Assembly initially had virtually no powers of its own. Our predecessors know that developing the European parliamentary dimension would be a long process and that this would require a clear compass, commitment, patience and stamina from them and subsequent generations. Step by step, the European Parliament secured more and more powers of its own, becoming ever more conscious of its responsibilities and scope for action, and I believe I can say on behalf of everyone here that today it is genuinely worthy of its name.

(Applause)

Today we are the representatives of almost 500 million Union citizens and we reflect all the different strands of the political spectrum in the European Union. We are the freely elected Parliament of the European Union, united in our efforts to achieve the best and most convincing solutions. We have become self-assured and a major player in European politics.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reason to derive great satisfaction from that.

This process began in 1958 and there have been milestones along the way, on our shared path towards European integration. In 1971 the European Community was given its own budget, and since then the European Parliament has played a key role in the adoption of successive budgets. In 1979 the first direct elections to the European Parliament were held. In 1986, with the Single European Act, the name 'European Parliament' finally took legal effect. With the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty 15 years ago, the European Parliament was finally granted full codecision powers in initial areas of Community policy, enabling it to make a real contribution to the framing of legislation, and apply the brakes, if necessary, against the will of the Council. The Amsterdam Treaty further enhanced these codecision rights, while the Lisbon Treaty will establish codecision as the rule in the crafting of European legislation, and therefore refers, appropriately, to the 'ordinary legislative procedure'.

Today, we are 785 Members from 27 European nations. We represent more than 150 national political parties, most of which have joined together to form the seven parliamentary groups. We are both a legislative and a budgetary authority, on an equal footing with the Council. We exercise oversight over the European Commission and elect its President, and the Commission cannot take office without our approval. We are an advocate for the primacy of Community law, and we are the citizens' chamber of the European Union.

Three weeks ago we adopted the Treaty of Lisbon, which will further strengthen our powers. In future, decisions on important issues of current concern to citizens in the European Union can be taken only if a majority in the European Parliament gives its consent. This also applies to key issues of justice and home affairs. However, this is no reason to be complacent and it is certainly not the outcome of an inevitable process. We had to fight every inch of the way.

I would like to thank everyone who, over the past five decades and in the capable hands of our Presidents, has worked to strengthen the parliamentary dimension of European integration and rendered a valuable service to that process. Thank you to the Members of the European Parliament, past and present!

(Applause)


Jean Monnet once said: 'Nothing is possible without people, and nothing is permanent without institutions'. I would also like to take a moment to remember Paul-Henri Spaak, the first President of the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) – the institution that preceded the European Parliament – who, with his report after the Messina Conference in June 1955, made a major contribution to the preparation of the Treaty of Rome.

The path towards parliamentary democracy in the European Union has followed a logic that is familiar to us from the history of the European nation states. What we have created is an institutional balance between the national and the European level, which is a major success and reflects the interaction between the various levels of shared governance in Europe. An important element of this balance is the European Parliament's good cooperation with the national parliaments, which is of special concern to us. I am very happy to see that almost all the national parliaments of the Member States of the European Union have sent high-level representatives to be with us today.

(Applause)

I would ask all of you – the Members of the European Parliament and the members of the national parliaments – to play your part in the endeavour to maintain that cooperation in future.

The Treaty of Lisbon and the Charter of Fundamental Rights will make a decisive contribution towards making democracy and parliamentarianism in the European Union a reality at all levels. We can be proud, ladies and gentlemen, of our consistent and unequivocal support for the Reform Treaty and for the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

(Applause)

We do need the critical public and critical monitoring of our work. However, we are also entitled to fairness. The European Union, in all its diversity, is more complex than any other community in the world. I would ask the media – which play a vital role in our communication with citizens – to bear that in mind. The European Union should not be used as a scapegoat for national failures.

(Applause)

One of the greatest successes of our European vision over the past 50 years has been the assertion of democracy and freedom all over Europe. Today, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania and reunited Germany are members of the European Union – an achievement which we could only dream of and which has become a reality in our lifetime. Today – as the Berlin Declaration of 25 March 2007 says – we, the citizens of the European Union, have 'united for the better'. That is a cause for great joy.

In taking stock of the past 50 years, it is important that we look to the future. We should remind ourselves self-critically which aspects of Europe's parliamentary dimension are still unsatisfactory.

Unlike the national parliaments, we still do not have the possibility, in the budget procedure, to decide on the raising of our own financial resources.

Parliamentary government generally entails parliamentary control of the military; however, the European Union's common foreign security and defence policy is still incomplete and does not provide for proper linkage between national and European responsibilities.

We still do not have a uniform electoral law, which means that we are still lacking an important prerequisite for effective European political parties that can stand for election to the European Parliament with single lists of candidates.

With patience, stamina and a good compass, the European Parliament has fought to assert its position in Europe ever since the first session of the European Parliamentary Assembly, and it must and will continue to do so in future. As Europe's directly elected supranational assembly, the European Parliament is held up as a model for similar efforts in other regions of the world. I witness this, and so do you, when we visit other parts of the world.

When Robert Schuman took office as the first President of the European Parliamentary Assembly on 19 March 1958, this positive development of Europe's parliamentary dimension would have been almost impossible to predict. However, Robert Schuman had a vision. He spoke of the European idea which, he said, had to be revived, describing this as 'la relance de l’idee européenne'. Today, after the crises surrounding the failed Constitutional Treaty, what could be a better leitmotif for the task that lies ahead?

On 19 March 1958 Robert Schuman, in his brief address, expressed his concern that a technocratic view of matters could cause European integration to wither away. This is as true today as it was then. Robert Schuman was realistic, modest and clear in his description of the opportunities available to the Parliamentary Assembly, which he presided over until 1960: 'Nous désirons contribuer', he said in his warm and resonant voice, 'à créer un noyau de la structure européenne.'

Robert Schuman ended his first address as the President of the European Parliamentary Assembly by pledging to work to unify our continent, to unify Europe, which he believed must see itself as a community of values uniting the free nations of our continent: 'Ainsi seulement l’Europe réussira à mettre en valeur le patrimoine total qui est commun à tous les pays libres.'

I would like to build on this. The European Union is a community of values. Our institutions are not an end in themselves, but are there to serve our values: the dignity of the individual, human rights, democracy, law, and economic and social prosperity. They serve the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. Europe means respect for each other, respect for our diversity, respect for the dignity of all our Member States, large and small. This respect cannot be imposed, but is an essential prerequisite for our mutual understanding and common action. Respect for European law, which enables us to resolve our conflicts amicably and achieve a balance of interests in a peaceful way, must be continually renewed through the unwritten rules that govern our relations in Europe: consideration and respect for one another.

(Applause)

I would like to encourage and urge everyone – no matter where we stand on the political spectrum – to continue to show this respect for each other.

If this mutual respect – marked by tolerance for one another's convictions but remaining true to our own, while being prepared to strike compromises – is successful, the European Union and the European Parliament can stand as a model for peace in the world.

Our European legacy is preserved in the peace and unity of our nations, which have joined together to form the European Union. We honour Robert Schuman and all the Members of the first European Parliamentary Assembly by endeavouring to be true to their legacy, by working for a responsible and open European Parliament that is close to citizens, but which has the resolve, when necessary, to provide political leadership. If we continue to work resolutely here, we have no reason to fear the judgment of those who come after us and who, in 2058, will take stock of our work today as they celebrate the European Parliament's 100th anniversary.

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, let us rejoice together in the freedom, peace and unity of our European continent, which we are privileged to serve.

(Loud and sustained applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Janša, President-in-Office. (SL) ‘My address cannot be devoid of emotion.’ This is how the first President of the European Parliamentary Assembly, Robert Schuman, addressed this respected House for the first time on 19 March 1958. Fifty years later, on your festive anniversary, we feel exactly the same.

Here I am addressing not only 142 national, but also 785 directly elected Members of the European Parliament. Looking back at the road we have left behind and at the blossoming of European democracy over the last 50 years should make us proud and very grateful to the fathers of the European concept. At the same time we are charged with the responsibility to continue the European story of peace, cooperation and prosperity to the best of our ability.

Let us recall the year 1958: society faced with the consequences of two destructive wars, the world of bipolar posturing by western and eastern powers, the cold war, the Cuban revolution, the first chip, nuclear experiments and the launch of the first space satellite. One hundred and sixty-eight million Europeans were united as the six members of the European Union, which healed war wounds, prospered economically and, together with the Euroatlantic Alliance, secured peace and democracy in the area. Sadly, the greater part of the remainder of Europe lived in a totalitarian environment of civil and economic stagnation or even regression.

In 2008 we are faced with a completely different picture: the multipolar world is concerned not only with economic and political competition, but also increasingly with cooperation in search of solutions to the present challenges. The elimination of borders that divided Europe from the Berlin Wall, the elimination of the Iron Curtain and the monitoring of internal borders will continue at the end of this month with the elimination of aerial borders within the enlarged Schengen area.

The territory of the European Union is more than three times larger than 50 years ago and it has three times more inhabitants, 23 official languages, a stronger internal market and a common currency. On average, the life expectancy of its citizens is eight years longer. Twenty-seven leaders of governments and nations – one third of us were living in totalitarian regimes 20 years ago – will be making decisions around the same table tomorrow. Today almost the whole of Europe lives in freedom and democracy. We should be aware of this achievement and celebrate it.

The life and work of the European Parliament since 1958 clearly reflects the progress achieved through integration over the last 50 years. After the initial advisory role, in the early seventies you gained the first real competences in respect of the European budget, and at the end of the seventies you had the first direct elections. With new agreements you obtained stronger competences in adopting legislation and appointing the top European political representatives. The new European Commission is also unable to exist without your confidence.

In the same way that the Treaty of Rome brought new responsibilities to Parliament in 1958, the Treaty of Lisbon, 50 years later, represents a big step forward for the European Parliament. The codecision procedure will spread to almost all European policies, and the role of Parliament in democratic supervision, the creation of international agreements and the appointment of the top European representatives will be strengthened.

I was very pleased when at the plenary session last month you adopted the report on the Lisbon Reform Treaty with a large majority. I would also like to congratulate all the Member States which have already successfully concluded ratification procedures, and I hope that they will soon be followed by all the remaining Member States.

Where the first 50 years of the European Union were devoted to the European agenda, our political and economic development and reforms, the next 50 years will certainly be focused on the global agenda as well. This is clearly indicated in the list of topics for tomorrow’s session of the European Council.

It is absolutely clear that we can find appropriate solutions to the Lisbon challenges, the ecology and energy issues and the turmoil in the financial markets only if we take global trends and players into account and include them in our activities.

This applies to human rights and intercultural dialogue too, where you, the European Parliament, certainly have a leading role. I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the European Council, to express recognition of your role in pointing out human rights violations and monitoring elections and of the work of your delegations in international institutions such as the United Nations Human Rights Council. Your role within the framework of joint Parliamentary assemblies is also important and gives added value to European Union policies regarding third countries and regions.

Through your activities and meetings with high-ranking guests during the Year of Intercultural Dialogue, you are strengthening one of the basic European traditions, that is to say the fact that mutual respect and understanding are the basis of coexistence in Europe as well as in the world as a whole.

The range of activities of the European Union is constantly broadening, but they are all governed by a single rule: success is proportional to the degree of unity among the Member States, sectors, common interest groups and generations and within regional, national, European and global factors. Here the institutions of the European Union must serve as an example.

‘Every person is a new world. Only institutions that preserve the collective experience can mature.’ With this thought Jean Monnet takes us one step closer to explaining why the vision of the European Union is still often different from reality and why many Europeans, despite the very evident successes of the last 50 years, still doubt the benefits of European integration. To understand and value freedom, peace and diversity, the absence of borders and the benefits and future prospects of a united Europe, we must always be aware that there are other, much worse alternatives.

That is why our common task is to keep the European collective experience alive. From it we can draw strength to meet the current challenges. Thoughts of the past must be united with those for the future. Had we not joined forces 50 years ago, we would probably not be living in peace and prosperity today. The same can be said about the next 50 years. If we do not search together for low-carbon and energy-saving solutions, we will not succeed in slowing down climate change. We will face ever more floods, hurricanes, drought, new diseases, endangered ecosystems and climate refugees. It is essential that the results of European decisions and activities be sufficiently concrete and tangible for citizens to understand the crucial importance of the European Union in the preservation and improvement of their quality of life.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you for your contribution to the development of the European Union over the last 50 years. I know what it has all meant for our generations. Actually, I was born in the same year as the European Parliament.

Until the end of this mandate and beyond, I wish you much success in your work, plenty of new ideas and steady persistence in the development of European values, democracy and way of life.

I am convinced that when celebrating the next round anniversary of this European house of democracy, we will again be able to celebrate visible progress in Europe.

(applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − Many thanks to the President of the European Council. I would now like to ask the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, to take the floor.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission. – (FR) Mr President of the European Parliament, Mr President-in-Office, Presidents of the various European institutions, former Presidents of the House, ladies and gentlemen, representatives of the national parliaments, visiting guests, I am very pleased to be celebrating the European Parliament’s first half century with you today. This anniversary has a considerable symbolic and political meaning for our Europe. Fifty years ago Robert Schuman presided over a new single Assembly. The three European Communities had just created the first version of a European democracy. Since then, this fundamental political choice has been relentlessly reaffirmed at each stage of European integration.

Before anyone else, the founding fathers had the intuition that the emerging Europe required robust democratic European institutions to embody the increasingly stronger ties between the Six. In accordance with Jean Monnet’s inspired vision, these institutions also had to be able to evolve to accompany what they sensed as the dual events of the future: deeper integration and geographic enlargement. I must tell you it is still extremely moving to see you all here in this house of European democracy, representatives directly elected by nations who until very recently had been divided by dictatorships that prevented Europe from drawing breath in freedom.

(Applause)

The institutional triangle the founding fathers bequeathed us is a model unique to the world that has certainly proved its vitality and solidness after 50 years. It has adapted to a substantial extension of the scope of the tasks entrusted to the Community, and now to the EU. It has also coped with a significant dynamic enlargement of our Union.

We owe this success to the ingenuity and equilibrium of our institutional model, which does not follow a classic distribution of powers. We also owe this success to our operating method, which respects both the Community method and the principle of subsidiarity.

The institutions, however, are not an end in themselves. They remain at the service of an ideal and objectives. They are at the service of our citizens. The stronger the institutions, the better they can serve this ideal and our citizens.

Above all, the founding fathers wished to build Europe for the sake of peace. They wanted to build that new Europe through solidarity. They chose the economy as the driving force behind their political vision and their objectives.

Fifty years on, Europe at peace, enlarged to continental dimensions, needs strong institutions to cope with the challenge of its time: globalisation. No Member State can take up this challenge alone. Through its experience in opening up markets along with rules that embody its values of freedom, solidarity and sustainable development, only Europe simultaneously has the dimensions, the institutions and the instruments required to handle and shape globalisation.

To take up this challenge, the Europe of the 21st century must unite to reap success in the knowledge-based economy, provide jobs for European women and men, and make its economy more dynamic. It must take up its rightful place on the world stage: a European power, bereft of arrogance, a Europe that will be in a position to propose – not impose, but propose – the values of freedom and solidarity to the world.

We will succeed if we maintain a constructive partnership between our institutions.

Within this partnership I wish to congratulate Parliament on its contribution to the European project in all aspects of the daily lives of all our citizens. In its 50 years this House has gained many competences and a considerable amount of power. I mean power that translates as legitimacy arising directly from the votes of European women and men. I also mean power in the formal sense: codecision, budgetary power and democratic control over the European institutions. What I really mean is political influence. The EP has imposed itself simultaneously as a colegislator sharing responsibility within the institutional triangle and in European public life, but also by forging ever closer links with the national parliaments, a large number of which are represented here today.

The power acquired by the EP down through the years has served only to strengthen Europe as a whole. A strong European Parliament is an essential partner for the other institutions, and – I must emphasise this – for the European Commission. I think I may say that the relationship between our two institutions is increasingly close, solid and mature, and that pleases me very much indeed.

When the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, it will strengthen the Community institutions even further. It will broaden the powers of the European Parliament. It will bolster the dual democratic legitimacy of the Commission through stronger links to the European Parliament and European Council. It will give the European Council a stable presidency, which will ensure that the preparation and monitoring of European Council meetings are more consistent. It will develop the role of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who will also be Vice-President of the European Commission.

By reinforcing the legitimacy and efficiency of our institutions, the Lisbon Treaty represents a major step forward for the European Union.

Today, and tomorrow, we must understand that there can be no zero sum game between the institutions. None of our institutions should be strengthened to the detriment of the others. On the contrary, we all want stronger European institutions if Europe is to be more efficient and more democratic. All our institutions will gain from the consolidation of Europe’s institutional architecture.

Ladies and gentlemen, in relation to the date we are commemorating today a quote occurred to me from a great Portuguese author, Agustina Bessa Luis. She said: ‘At 15, one has a future, at 25, a problem, at 40, an experience, but before the half-century, one really has no history at all’.

Today the European Parliament, this house of European democracy, can proudly claim it has a fine history in its past, I am sure, but also in its future. It is for that reason that I would like to offer you, on behalf of the European Commission and on my own behalf, my most sincere congratulations and my very best wishes for your work towards a united Europe.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − Many thanks to the President of the European Commission. I would now like to welcome Hans Joachim Opitz, who is also here with us today and is representing all the former Secretaries-General.

We now have the pleasure of listening once again to the European Union Youth Orchestra.

(Short performance by the European Union Youth Orchestra)

(Loud applause)

(The House rose and listened to the European anthem)

(The sitting was suspended at 4.15 p.m. and resumed at 4.20 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MRS KRATSA-TASAGAROPOULOU
Vice-President

 

9. Approval of the minutes of the previous sitting: see Minutes
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – The Minutes of the sitting of Tuesday 11 March have been distributed.

Are there any comments?

(The Minutes were approved)

 

10. Announcement by the President
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – Ladies and gentlemen, I should like to make an important announcement regarding this afternoon’s vote. For technical reasons, the results of roll-call votes displayed and announced by the president of the sitting do not correspond exactly to the actual number recorded by the voting system. In no case has the result of a vote been affected, as the majorities have not changed.

That being the case, today's midday votes cannot be called into question and are deemed approved. The results that will be published as an annex to the minutes of today's sitting will be the actual results.

It is understood that the technical services are making every effort to determine the reason for this malfunction and that all functions will be restored for tomorrow’s votes.

 

11. The European Union's role in Iraq (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – The next item is the report (A6-0052/2008) by Mrs Gomes, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, on a proposal for a European Parliament recommendation to the Council on the European Union’s role in Iraq (2007/2181(INI)).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ana Maria Gomes, rapporteur. − (PT) Madam President, as this House is about to vote on a report on the European Union’s role in Iraq, it is important to look at some of the lessons learnt from the history of that country. On 16 March it will be 20 years since the chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja, one of the most deadly operations in the Anfal genocidal campaign conducted by the forces of Saddam Hussein against his own people. Halabja was not a one-off; there were many Halabjas throughout Iraq. For decades, given the passivity and occasional connivance of European governments, Saddam Hussein’s regime subjected the Iraqi people to a strategy of systematic brutalisation with devastating consequences which are still being felt today. That is why, as rapporteur, I wanted the fundamental axiom of this report to be the moral and legal responsibility of Europe towards the Iraqi people. No people have suffered more in recent decades and few countries are strategically more important to Europe’s security.

Besides being a matter of duty, Europe must realise that it has an interest in consolidating a federal and democratic Iraq where the rule of law prevails and where human rights are respected, including the rights of women. In 2003 my party, the Portuguese Socialist Party, and myself personally were opposed to the decision to invade Iraq supported by the then Prime Minister of my country, Mr Durão Barroso. I still maintain this position. However, this report must not be used to reiterate our well-known positions on an issue that has divided Europe in the past. This House is being called on to give its opinion on the present and future contribution of the European Union to a secure, prosperous and democratic Iraq that is at peace with its neighbours.

It was with this in mind that I made two trips to Iraq in January and February, in preparation for this report. One trip was to Baghdad, Nassiria and the Marshlands region, and the other was to Kurdistan in the north of the country. With a budget of 48 billion dollars for 2008, what Iraq is not lacking is money. It does not need any more budget support or soft loans. What Iraq needs and what Iraqis are asking for is technical assistance and institutional empowerment so that the State and civil society can function properly and so that the country’s vast resources can be put to good use for the population, including the millions of internally displaced persons and refugees in neighbouring countries.

This report does not just encourage greater involvement of the EU in Iraq. We also demand that the EU’s presence in Iraq be governed by transparency, visibility and efficiency. Parliament is delighted to observe the Commission’s growing concern about perfecting the use of European funds in Iraq in an extremely difficult context. In this respect, we feel that the Commission and the Member States can and must have a greater presence on the ground, with personnel and projects, particularly in those areas of the country where the security situation permits this, as is the case with the Kurdish region. On the other hand, we demand regulation of contracts for private military and security companies. I would stress that in this report the European Parliament is calling for the first time for the establishment of clear guidelines on the use of these companies by EU institutions.

The main message of this report, which must be conveyed to the Commission, the Council, European companies, non-governmental organisations and public opinion, is as follows: Europe today has a unique opportunity to contribute positively to the future of Iraq and, as a result, the region. The interaction with the Commission during the preparation of this report and the consensus reached on this report in the Committee on Foreign Affairs have convinced me that Europe is prepared to take on this challenge. I must end by personally thanking all my fellow Members who proposed amendments and suggestions and in particular the shadow rapporteurs, Mrs Hybášková, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, Mr Brie and Mr Özdemir for their contributions, which have greatly enriched this report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) Firstly I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mrs Gomes, for her report on the role of the European Union in Iraq. We will pay great attention to today’s debate and carefully study proposals by the rapporteur and the entire assembly.

Allow me to take this opportunity to particularly welcome the recent decision by the European Parliament to establish an ad hoc delegation for Iraq. It will certainly contribute to the strengthening of relations between the European Union and Iraq in all areas.

In close cooperation with the Iraqi government and other players, especially the United Nations, the European Union is strengthening relations with Iraq and supports the central role of the United Nations in Iraq, and it will continue its close cooperation with UNAMI, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq. It will also guarantee support for this mission in realising the role assigned to it by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1770.

The European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office, ECHO, is cooperating in the work to improve the humanitarian situation in the whole region and not only in Iraq. Negotiations on the trade and cooperation agreement with Iraq are also an important factor in strengthening relations between Iraq and the European Union. We were pleased to learn that the negotiations were proceeding very well.

The EU is firm in its support for the process, in which the neighbouring countries are also cooperating. We will continue to stress the importance of dialogue between Iraq and its neighbours. Here I must emphasise that the territorial integrity of Iraq must be preserved. As we know, the Presidency has expressed great concern about the recent operations by the Turkish military on Iraqi territory. We would like to underline the great importance of uninterrupted dialogue and cooperation between Iraq and Turkey and we are strongly encouraging both governments and the Kurdish regional government to find a peaceful solution to the situation and to avoid conflict.

The success of efforts for national reconciliation are of crucial importance for long-lasting and permanent progress in improving the security situation. The European Union is prepared to support Iraq in its commitments to continue this process.

I would like to end by stating that the European Union has already allocated large resources for aid to Iraq. It is still contributing to renewal of the Iraqi security sector, especially through its Integrated Rule of Law Mission for Iraq, which has been extended to summer next year. As we know, the Iraqi authorities greatly value this mission.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. − Madam President, first of all, please allow me to take a little more time, because this is a very important issue for me.

First, let me commend Ms Gomes and all the other Members of Parliament involved in the preparation of this important report. Ms Gomes has visited Iraq twice since December in order to get the clearest possible picture of what is and what is not happening in the country. I have sent my two directors in charge of the area to Iraq, one of whom, Mr Tomás Duplá del Moral, is here with me today. I will tell you more about that later.

Ms Gomes’s analysis is clear, comprehensive and above all it starts from the right place. We have no choice but to deal with the challenges Iraq faces now and in the future.

Five years after the fall of Saddam Hussein we may be entering a new phase of a gradual process. However, the process is still fragile, limited and unstable.

The security situation seems to be slightly better, partly as a consequence of the US surge, but also because of two other important factors: the activities of the Sunni Awakening Councils, armed and paid by the US, and most importantly Moqtada al-Sadr’s ceasefire, which has now been extended for another six months. The number of deaths among Iraqi civilians still remains very high and there is great uncertainty about the sustainability of these efforts and of improvements. Turkish incursions in the north contribute to complicating the situation, no matter how calm and measured the central and the Kurdish regional governments’ reactions may have been – at least for now.

On the political front, the Legislative Council approved an important package of laws: the 2008 budget, the provincial powers law and a limited amnesty related to the debaathification process, thereby giving satisfaction to Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. However, with the Presidential Council’s rejection of the provincial powers law, there is still uncertainty as to whether this limited progress can be consolidated.

The economic front shows a total reliance on the oil sector, difficulty in attracting foreign and even domestic investment, and lack of job creation opportunities. Collection of taxes and tariffs is very incipient and the amounts remain marginal. The capacity to spend the investments planned in the budget, while growing, is still limited. However, economic activity, including investments, seems at this stage to have more potential in the safest Kurdish area.

National reconciliation remains central in the political agenda and there are many initiatives and foreign-driven events. However, while domestic efforts to build up genuine Iraqi ownership and perspectives on the future of the country continue, a shared and clear vision is still lacking, and efforts are guided by sectarian, religious or ethnic interests, considerations or grievances. This is also what my director reported to me.

Let me take this opportunity to remind you of what we are already doing in and with Iraq and what we can set out to do under still difficult circumstances in the future. Our intervention extends over a wide range of activities covering the political, economic, assistance and humanitarian aspects.

First, the trade and cooperation agreement: it is a political endeavour, setting the basis for contractual relations between the European Union and Iraq for the first time. Our hope is that this will help Iraq to address its own reform agenda and facilitate its reintegration in the international community after years of isolation. We have just wrapped up the fourth round of talks. Rapid progress continues on areas from human rights to combating terrorism, from energy cooperation to the environment.

Secondly, the neighbours’ meetings, which the President-in-Office of the Council mentioned, could contribute very substantially to reducing interference, improving security and allowing political dialogue and reconciliation among the various factions. I have personally invested a good deal of effort to help this happen, having participated in two conferences, in Sharm el Sheikh and in Istanbul. I will continue to do so in the future if I can, to keep pressing home the need for Iraq’s neighbours to take up their responsibilities. Visits to Baghdad by the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, and most recently even the Iranian President are to be taken as good signs in this direction.

As Ms Gomes points out in her report, the task of helping Iraq stand on its own feet cannot fall on the shoulders of the donor community or the Iraqis alone.

On the subject of assistance, I need not remind this House that the EUR 829 million of Community funds devoted to Iraq since funding started under my predecessor in 2003 were committed with the full support of the Council and the European Parliament.

We have never been naive about the difficulty of delivering an effective programme in Iraq. We did as this Parliament and all our Member States recommended, by working with the UN and its agencies, with the World Bank and the multi-donor Trust Fund. Working with them was the only viable option available. The United Nations had an extremely hard time after the assassination of Sergio Vieira de Mello and a good part of its staff when its office in Baghdad was blown up. The new Special Representative, Staffan de Mistura, has taken on his job with remarkable commitment and is highly appreciated. You recently met the Deputy UN Special Representative, David Shearer, and I think you had a good exchange of views on their mission and the risks still existing.

I could mention many projects, but I shall do that when I answer your questions later on. At the moment I shall just say that I think it is important substantive work, all the more important given the very limited capacity – and I agree with Ms Gomes on this – of the Iraqi Government to deliver results. From basic needs in health and education, through assistance with democratisation, elections and human rights promotion, to humanitarian and refugee support, we have persisted with an extremely comprehensive programme, using the best available means in the most challenging circumstances.

We have tried to ensure that specific attention is paid to the needs of vulnerable groups, not least displaced Iraqis, whether inside Iraq or in the neighbouring states. Last year a substantial package of EUR 50 million was provided for refugee support. The Commission also intends to allocate EUR 20 million from its humanitarian budget line for 2008 in support of IDPs/refugees and the most vulnerable groups in Iraq. We have also started some bilateral projects, but there is no ideal solution. In fact, every option has inherent and formidable drawbacks.

As I have already mentioned – and I am coming to a conclusion – last week on my instructions, my two directors responsible for Iraq from the External Relations DG and EuropeAid visited Baghdad with their teams. They held fruitful but very frank discussions with the Iraqi authorities and other players. The mission confirmed Iraq’s precarious security, the political and economic situation that I described earlier, the extreme weakness of the Iraqi institutions after Saddam Hussein’s years and the ensuing war, and the key role of our small delegation in Baghdad.

The Iraqi Government expressed its eagerness to work with the European Union. On this basis, we shall try to fund, alongside other bilateral and international donors, and we will help to strengthen the institutions and the capacity of the administration of a state which remains weak. We shall explore ways of taking more direct action as Parliament has asked – bearing in mind the security environment – and we would like to ensure the maximum efficiency, visibility and accountability of our assistance.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ignasi Guardans Cambó, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on International Trade. (ES) Madam President, this report must be welcomed. The INTA Committee examined it and discussed it at great length, from the point of view of its competence of course, which is what I am going to talk about very briefly.

I would like to highlight a number of points contained in the INTA Committee’s text, which was only partially taken over by the rapporteur, although a significant part of the spirit of what the Committee on International Trade was saying has been incorporated. Firstly, Iraq has to be reintegrated into what we could call the international economic system and in that respect we must welcome its observer status in the World Trade Organisation; that is clearly a positive step in the right direction.

Secondly, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement must be used as a very useful instrument to encourage internal reforms that bring Iraq closer to multilateral system disciplines.

Thirdly, I would like to highlight the need to ensure real transparency and non-discrimination in relation to public procurement in Iraq. That is a point that the committee stressed and it will be presented as an amendment in plenary during tomorrow’s vote. I feel that it is important to emphasise it: transparency and balance in all public procurement.

Finally, we call for the reinvestment of the revenue from the sale of petroleum in such a way as to ensure that it is managed by the Iraqi Government itself through competent bodies.

There could be a great deal more, but I believe that the report as a whole merits the congratulations of this House.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jana Hybášková, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (CS) Madam President, Commissioner, I would like to express my profound thanks to Baroness Nicholson, Mrs Ana Gomes and the Commission. What once looked impossible is now a reality. This Parliament, the European Parliament, united in its recommendation to both the Council and the Commission on the European Union’s role in Iraq.

Let us bury the past. The situation is no longer deteriorating and stability is taking hold. Young people are turning their backs on sectarianism and violence, the militia are losing support and the Mahdi Army is cooperating. It is therefore vital for Europe to be present in Iraq. The main task for Europe is to strengthen law and order, and to provide technical assistance to the police, the Ministry of the Interior, the courts and the prison systems. It is also important to help Iraqis to benefit their huge oil reserves, through budgetary means. The third requirement is to strengthen democracy by providing technical support for elections.

We also encourage European firms and companies to renew their commitment to Iraq. For that, however, we need a common European position. We are dealing with refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons. We need to have partners. We need Iraqi partners who respect transparency, fight corruption and nepotism, and respect the rule of law, human rights and democracy. We are prepared to offer assistance to the Iraqi Council of Representatives on a partnership basis, to teach their staff, to travel there and work through the ad hoc permanent delegation.

There is one important issue, and I am saying this as a person who first visited Basra on 7 April 2003: the European presence there must not add to the problem. All Europeans must work together in order to alleviate the human tragedy suffered by generations of Iraqis.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Véronique De Keyser, on behalf of the PSE Group. (FR) Madam President, Ana Gomes’s report is excellent, and constitutes a considerable feat. On a topic as sensitive as Iraq which has divided us for so long, the report gives us a new and constructive perspective with none of the usual politico-speak, and this comes as no surprise from Ana Gomes. It was also adopted by a considerable majority in the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and I wish to mention two points among the many that were made.

Firstly, Ana Gomes is calling for all instruments at the disposal of the Commission to be used creatively with a view to reconstituting appropriate capacities in Iraq in the fields of the rule of law, justice, human rights, good governance, women, health and education. Ana Gomes says and writes this with a certain amount of force. Iraq does not lack money: it is potentially a rich country but has been completely torn apart in administrative and human terms. She is therefore calling for bilateral projects in support of capacity-building and civil society, and points to the courage of the Commission, which has even opened a delegation in Baghdad to monitor these projects at closer range and provide greater visibility for the EU effort.

Secondly, beyond Iraq itself Ana Gomes is concerned with the plight of the Iraqi refugees. A recent report by the High Commissioner for Refugees claims that there are over two million refugees in neighbouring countries, but it is in Syria, with 1 400 000 refugees, and Jordan with almost half a million, that the situation has reached boiling point. Child labour and prostitution have also been reported despite these countries’ best efforts. Ana Gomes is calling on Europe to show greater generosity in taking in refugees, and on the Commission to provide more support for its aid programmes.

In short, this report must be given very serious consideration in the short term, and perhaps also in the medium term, when it comes to any future policies on Iraq, especially budgetary policies. I wish to remind the House once more that the rapporteur visited the country twice just before she submitted her analysis of the situation. In due awareness of the difficulties on the ground, one cannot but admire her courage.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nicholson of Winterbourne, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Madam President, I too offer my warmest congratulations to our rapporteur. Ms Gomes has produced a truly exceptional report, whose findings are derived directly from her first-hand experience on the ground. I congratulate the Commissioner for her own constant and assiduous attention to the most important elements of the Iraqi problem and the Head of Delegation, Mr Uusitalo, whose work I have seen on the ground on a number of occasions. First-class work by the Commission – I warmly congratulate you and Mr Uusitalo. The Council of Ministers has also given a lot of attention to the question of Iraq. Now today we in the Parliament are giving it our attention too, so at last the key institutions of the European Union have come together. Of course, together we can achieve much more.

Iraq today has a true parliament and a wholly secular constitution. Iraq is one of the very few nations in this region to have a democracy – a secular democracy – despite its flaws. We therefore must do all we can to help the Iraqis strengthen the democratic process. I believe strengthening ties between our respective parliaments is one of the key ways in which we can assist. I am most honoured to be the new chairman of the delegation that the Conference of Presidents has recently created.

In October last year – and again in January with Ms Gomes – I had the opportunity to address the Iraqi Parliament in plenary session. It was a great honour and we learnt immediately how much assistance they need. To help Iraq reverse the dismal administrative situation she has inherited, we need also to make close partnerships with the public service ministries and to use all of our experience in the enlargement process to help capacity-building and institution-building.

For, like us, the people of Iraq demand democracy and have a right to good governance. They also demand and need the provision of basic human rights, of essential public services and the full complement of those privileges that we have in our democracies in Western Europe. I would suggest that the price of a stable Iraq exerting a benign influence regionally and nationally is worth every effort to attain. Once Turkey joins the European Union, as I hope she will, Iraq becomes our neighbour and we therefore see her as part of the wider neighbourhood.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Adam Bielan, on behalf of the UEN Group. (PL) Madam President, I too would like to congratulate the rapporteur on the report before us.

Ladies and gentlemen, in a few days’ time, on 20 March, five years will have elapsed since the forces of the international coalition started the second war in the Persian Gulf. Unfortunately, not all the Member States of the European Union took the political decision to support the United States at the time. The lack of unity evident in 2003 continues to impact negatively on the role the European Union could potentially play in the reconstruction of Iraq. After all, we do have a range of financial and political resources available. If properly used, the latter could assist in supporting a secure and democratic Iraq, thus contributing to an immediate improvement in the stability of the entire region.

Clearly, and in this I agree with the rapporteur, Iraq needs more than financial assistance. It also requires support to help rebuild its national institutions and civil society. It should be borne in mind that during decades of dictatorial rule, Iraq’s public administration was directed towards control of the population rather than towards public services.

As we draft a new European Union strategy for its future commitment in Iraq, we must not overlook the need for dialogue with the United States, notably in the area of foreign and security policy. I am convinced that good cooperation with the United States is a key factor for the building of a safe and stable Iraq.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Caroline Lucas, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Madam President, I would also like to thank Ms Gomes for her excellent report. I should like to start by underlining that any reflection on the EU’s involvement in Iraq must learn from the mistakes of the past, considering that the invasion has been such an enormous political and humanitarian catastrophe. Our starting point should be recognition that Iraq’s problems can only be resolved by giving real and comprehensive sovereignty, including over oil and other resources, back to the Iraqis and I would therefore call for the withdrawal of all foreign occupation troops.

I followed the opinion on the report in the Committee on International Trade and from that perspective I observed that the military occupation of Iraq was followed by an economic one, whereby the US privatised public property, liberalised trade and established rules regarding foreign direct investments in clear conflict with international law. That is why we need to be a bit cautious in the areas of trade and investment.

The report before us welcomes Iraq’s observer status at the WTO as a key step towards driving Iraq’s integration in the international economy and it looks forward to the EU-Iraq trade and cooperation agreement. I just want to make sure that Iraq has sufficiently built up its own capacities for negotiation and evaluation. Otherwise we risk that country becoming once again prey to outside interests.

Similarly, the report calls for help and encouragement for European firms to bid for contracts to rebuild Iraq. Again, let us be sure that we do all we can to build up the capacity of Iraqi companies, as well as the negotiating capacities of the Government, so that we can move forward in a more positive way for everyone.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Vittorio Agnoletto, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, we are positively disposed towards the Gomes report, which contains some distinctive points such as defence of territorial integrity and the need for a reconciliation process within Iraq. At the same time, however, we believe that the European Union must call upon Turkey to put an immediate end to its invasion of northern Iraq.

We also endorse the call for the revenue from petroleum sales to be invested for the good of Iraq, but we cannot ignore the laws laid down by the United States, which have handed over Iraq’s energy resources to large US multinationals, allowing them to export all the proceeds and make huge profits. One such company is that of Vice-President Cheney, Halliburton.

We can certainly endorse the call for transparency concerning the rules and legal status for contractor organisations, but we cannot ignore the fact that there are private armies employing tens of thousands of people in Iraq operating completely outside of any rules.

The report calls for the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports to be made legally binding, but we cannot forget that this war has cost $6 000 billion, which could otherwise have been invested in attaining the Millennium Goals. This war and occupation have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths; this war and occupation were, and still are, illegal, entered into in complete violation of international law, unilaterally and against the wishes of the majority of Member States, the United Nations and international public opinion.

We should call for the immediate withdrawal of the occupying troops. They must be replaced by a UN mission geared solely to guaranteeing security; all belligerent activity must cease.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (NL) Ms Gomes has gone to great efforts in writing about the European Union’s role in Iraq. The complicated situation in Iraq calls for a clear and committed policy. The proposed EU policy on Iraq, however, raises some serious questions. These questions dovetail in particular with my working visit to Kurdistan.

The rapporteur cited Kurdistan as a region where stability and security are barely guaranteed and where the international collaboration for development must be further expanded. Of course, EU presence in the region is very important, and I also want to underline that. There is harsh internal and external criticism of the Kurdish Government concerning respect for human rights, however, and the position of the Assyrian Christian minority in Kurdistan in particular is worrying. ‘Is there any possibility of a future for these groups in Iraq?’ That is a serious question.

In short, Members of the Council and the Commission, how can you make an effective contribution towards lasting peace and stability in the Kurdistan region and towards the establishment of a democratic legal ruling structure?

In conclusion, Madam President, I would like to make one last point. The millions of displaced Iraqis deserve our full attention and support. The rapporteur recommends to the Council that the EU Member States should welcome Iraqi refugees. Members of the Council and the Commission, how feasible is this excellent suggestion? Thank you.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Slavi Binev (NI). – (BG) Mr. Chairman. Dear colleagues, I support the report of Ms Gomes because it gives crystal clear picture of all the problems accompanying the establishment of the new democratic government in Iraq, as well as the ways to overcome them.

First of all, I urge the occupation forces to immediately withdraw from Iraq because the war and the occupation of that sovereign state were unlawful and the decision on them was taken in full violation of international law, i.e. unilaterally and contrary to the views of the majority of the Member States of the United Nations and the international community.

I hope that the emerged situation would not endanger the peaceful population of 3,500 members of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) in Ashraf who find themselves under incessant pressure. I am confident that democracy cannot be built in non-democratic and violent methods in any country of the world.

I am going to vote for the report of Аnа Мaria Gomes because the problems of Iraq can be resolved only through relinquishing real and comprehensive sovereignty back into Iraqi hands.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nickolay Mladenov (PPE-DE). – Madam President, Commissioner, President-in-Office of the Council and Ms Gomes, I want to thank you for everything you have said and for all the work you have done until now.

I believe that this report sends a very important message to the rest of the European Union: that this House wants to look forward; it does not want to look backwards; it wants to be engaged in the future of a democratic and federal Iraq in support of that future.

I will say three things about the report, and I am particularly proud that this report is coming from the European Parliament on the day we celebrate 50 years of the achievements of the European Parliament. Today we celebrate what we have achieved in reconciliation in Europe. And the lessons we have learned over the past 50 years are lessons we need to transfer as experience and knowledge to our friends in Iraq so that they can use them and rebuild their country in a successful way.

The report outlines, of course, the achievements, but it does not shy away from the challenges being faced the Federal Republic of Iraq and the Commissioner very aptly outlined them.

I would like to point out one thing as a footnote to her statement. That is that the achievement on the security front is the primary responsibility of the Iraqis, supported by the internationals of course, but it is the responsibility of the Iraqis. No one can ensure the security of Iraq except the Iraqis; nobody can ensure the resolution of the political problems except the Iraqi politicians and their political process.

We call for a new strategy, a European strategy for Iraq. I spent a large part of 2006 working in the Council representation in Baghdad helping them. The message I was receiving from everyone every day was, ‘Where is Europe? We want to talk to Europe because your experience is vital to us.’ This, today, is a response to that call.

Finally, this House in its report reaffirms the commitment of the European Parliament to support the reconstruction and the building of the Iraqi Parliament, an extremely important role, and thank you Council for recognising the contribution that this Parliament has made by selecting and approving a Delegation for relations with Iraq.

I think today we are faced with a vital challenge: actually to use what we know and what we have in support of political process, not through weapons, but through words, not through arms, but through deeds in Iraq and help the people there.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Béatrice Patrie (PSE). − (FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I also wish to congratulate Mrs Gomes on the quality of her work on an extremely sensitive and complex issue. We are all aware of the extent to which the conflict in Iraq was a source of deep divisions between the Member States. We are aware that our duty now is to help build a safe, unified, prosperous and democratic Iraq.

Personally I wish to highlight a greater drama, largely concealed by our governments: I am talking about the Iraqi conflict that has dumped almost 4.5 million people on the streets, the greatest population displacement in the Middle East since 1948. Concerted action is urgently required at European level.

My main concern is the immediate and long-term fate of the Iraqis forced to flee their own country. Approximately 2.3 million people have found refuge in neighbouring countries, chiefly Syria and Jordan, but also Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and the Gulf States. By taking in almost 2 million refugees, Syria and Jordan have made an extremely laudable effort.

The role of the EU and the international community is, of course, to ensure that all these refugees return home in the long term, but at this point in time return is not an option for many of them. Some particularly vulnerable refugees need to be transferred to Western countries. According to the UNHCR, 6.6% of Iraqis living in Syria, some 100 000, have to be resettled. I thus call on my colleagues to support the amendment in favour of resettlement programmes in 2008 for the EU to take in some of the most vulnerable refugees now in the hands of the UNHCR.

By way of conclusion, I urge the House not to turn its back on our values. We must fully respect the 1951 Geneva Convention and refuse any forced returns to Iraq.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Patrick Louis (IND/DEM). − (FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, Fernand Braudel claimed that history began in Sumer, but today the long history of Christian minorities in Iraq seems to have drawn to a close. We, the nations of Europe, cannot endorse this enormous injustice by taking no action. These people welcomed Islam and together they built a country that was prosperous before it was ravaged by fanaticism and wars.

Now these minorities must resign themselves to flight. Iraq cannot build a future without their presence and skills. A future is not built by partitioning a country: it is built by rebuilding its economy, with mutual recognition of different communities and cultures and application of the rule of law.

If the EU takes the firm decision to intervene in Iraq, it must constantly remember in its plans the dramatic reality of all these minority communities. Their future must be the yardstick of EU action, and the reality of mutual respect between communities the criterion for the allocation of its aid. This action will thus be a credit to our nations.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Sorin Frunzăverde (PPE-DE). – (RO) Admitting the progress achieved lately by Iraq internally and at foreign affairs level, the European Union must encourage the Iraqi authorities in continuing their efforts to develop democratic, stable, lawful state institutions, of a federal type.

Taking account of the ethnic and religious realities, I believe that only a federal Iraq can be viable. I am referring to a federal Iraq and not to a divided one. The European Union must also encourage the existence of a stable Iraq, with institutions capable of providing national sovereignty, state unity, territorial integrity, sustainable economic development and prosperity for the Iraqi people. The European Union must actively support the institutional development of Iraq, strongly rooted in its realities, with due respect of the historical, religious, cultural and identity traditions of the Iraqi people and of all the ethnic and religious communities within its territory.

In this context, it is advisable to establish certain consultative bodies, made up of the leaders of all the ethnic and religious communities of Iraq, with a view to conferring more legitimacy on the central authorities. Iraqi institutional development must be supported by the European Union by means of the Eujust Lex mission, as well as by adequate European financial tools.

I stress the necessity that European funding be addressed directly to the beneficiary Iraqi institutions. Such funds should be managed by the European Union institutions in a transparent and visible way for European citizens.

I recommend that the European Union institutions use the experience and expertise of those Member States that already have a civil and military presence on Iraqi territory in the process of stabilisation and reconstruction of this country. At the same time, I believe that European companies should be encouraged and supported in getting involved in the process of the reconstruction of Iraqi and in better developing their business in this area.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Erika Mann (PSE). – (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, Mrs Gomes, ladies and gentlemen, in the Committee on International Trade we of course focused primarily on aspects relating to trade and economic relations, but in some areas we went beyond that remit. May I therefore comment on two points.

First of all, we are very pleased that we have this report, which makes it clear that the European Union has a visible role and commitment in Iraq. We think it is absolutely vital that Iraq be integrated into the trade system and it goes without saying that the WTO is the right arena for that. We will have to provide far more technical assistance than we have done up to now. This technical assistance must focus on moving Iraq towards the European economic system and, to some extent, towards European business.

As for funding, we are rather sceptical about the prospect of everything being organised solely via the UN, the World Bank or the Multi-Donor Trust Fund. We would very much like to see own capacity being built up, at least to a certain extent, and own project administration, which would then enable us to build up a store of data and expertise to assist with that effort. We would very much like to see this aspiration being reflected in your decisions.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georgios Georgiou (IND/DEM). – (EL) Madam President, first of all let me congratulate Mrs Gomes, as well as the Commissioner, who we felt showed humane sensitivity regarding today’s events in Iraq.

However, Madam President, for some reason I still have the impression that we slavishly follow others, who destroy so that we can build. This is not the first time. Today we are giving EUR 820 million in aid to the Iraqis. We cannot help the dead, who number many more than those whom Saddam Hussein accounted for. I wonder whether those responsible for today’s dead will pay some day.

I say this because this also happened to us in Yugoslavia. Madam President, if we quite rightly do not like dictators and their methods, then let us find a way to free ourselves from dictators. We have no grounds for destroying countries just because we do not like dictators. Because of this, what happened in Yugoslavia is happening today in Iraq, and we do not know when the tragedy of the latter will end.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Anna Záborská (PPE-DE). − (FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the Archbishop of Mosul, Monsignor Rahho, was kidnapped almost two weeks ago. The three people with him were brutally murdered. This is a serious incident. The Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly protects civilian, health, religious and humanitarian personnel. There are many non-violent peace activists in Iraq, the Palestinian Territories and Israel. They are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or lay activists.

Following the kidnapping of the head of the religious minority, the House has two options for immediate action. At tomorrow’s vote on the report by our colleague Ana Gomes we can adopt an oral amendment condemning the kidnapping of Monsignor Rahho to influence the war. On Thursday we also have the chance to add a very short text to the agenda for urgent topics in order to adopt a position in our capacity as a European institution.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paulo Casaca (PSE).(PT) Please allow me to say, Commissioner, that, following our debate on this issue, the United Nations clearly deserves the utmost respect. Sérgio Vieira de Melo and everyone else who has died and who is risking their lives have our utmost respect. This does not mean that we should not know what is happening and who is receiving the funds to be used in Iraq. Please also allow me to say that the EUR 20 million which the Commissioner has spoken about today – and please forgive me as I did read about this two or three months ago – seem to me to be woefully inadequate to deal with the dramatic problems facing refugees and displaced persons. Commissioner, these problems are of colossal dimensions and the oil in Iraq will be of little help as there are people who have no access to this oil. I would be grateful, Commissioner, if more effort could be put into this issue because, as Mrs Patrie said, this problem urgently needs to be considered.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ioan Mircea Paşcu (PSE). – Madam President, Europe was against the war in Iraq. However, irrespective of who was right and who was wrong, post-Saddam Iraq is a reality nobody can ignore.

Taking into account the impact of the Iraqi situation on the entire Middle East and beyond, the EU cannot continue to stay for the most part relatively on the margins. Through its huge resources and expertise, the EU must engage in a significant way in supporting the consolidation of the new Iraqi state. The Commissioner described the symptoms. Now we need to see how we could cure them, and not only in concert with other international organisations – the EU can do better than that – but mainly on our own. The strategic aim is to help the new, democratically elected authorities in that country to give credibility, and therefore authority, to the institutions of the new state. A new, democratic, self-sustaining, oil-rich Iraq in the middle of the Middle East is in the interest of all.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Renate Weber (ALDE). – (RO) At present, the European Commission is negotiating a commercial and cooperation agreement with the Iraqi authorities, on which occasion the issues related to the enforcement of human rights are also being addressed.

I ask the European Commission to firmly request the Iraqi authorities to find solutions to the reintegration of external and internal refugees. I also appeal to the Member States of the Union to assess the demands for asylum of Iraqi refugees as a priority. The various feedbacks from the states on this matter prove once again the necessity of harmonising procedures on the status of refugees at European level. It is essential that the commercial and cooperation agreement refer to the issue of inter-parliamentary cooperation as well.

I believe that the Delegation for relations with Iraq from the European Parliament can support the strengthening of the institutional capacity of the Iraqi legislative body. The European Union must assist Iraq in becoming a viable partner in a sensitive region. Congratulations and thanks to Mrs Ana Maria Gomes on the report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zbigniew Zaleski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Madam President, if we want to be able to count on Iraqi partners who will help to create democracy as the basis of peaceful coexistence, investment will be needed. I recall that when I was a student, we simply used to host young people from Iraq in our secondary schools. Perhaps it would be possible for the European Union to make similar opportunities available to young Iraqis at the present time. I have in mind inviting young people under the age of 24, and enabling them to live amongst us and learn from the experience. They would of course make a critical assessment of what they saw, retain what was positive and replicate it back home, whilst perhaps improving on what they deemed to be negative. I hereby commend this school-based proposal to the House. Visits of this type need not take place exclusively at university level. Clearly, policies depend on people, and there could be room for such a venture within your area of competence, Madam.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tunne Kelam (PPE-DE). – Madam President, this is a message from the European Parliament to the Council on the need to have a European strategy for Iraq. It is time to stop arguing about recent differences and to concentrate on the EU’s proactive engagement there. I would like to thank the Commissioner for a thorough account of the situation in Iraq, and there is cautious optimism in the air. I think there is an understanding that things could become better. This is what Ms Gomes so eloquently described as a golden opportunity for a positive contribution the EU could make.

For me, two points are essential. For Parliament it is important to channel EU support for building democratic governance, and this was met with great interest on the part of Iraqi politicians. Second, the EU is in an exceptional position to support the reconciliation process, and without this there could be only disintegration and further domestic warfare, so we need to make use of this opportunity.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) I would like to thank everyone for expressing their positions and opinions on this subject, which will certainly be useful to us in our further activities. I would like to add one comment and one answer.

Mrs Záborská’s question related to the kidnapping of the Chaldean Catholic Bishop. I would like to draw your attention to the statement issued by the Presidency on 1 March, in which it strongly condemned the kidnapping and called for the unconditional and immediate release of the Chaldean Archbishop.

Now to the other issue. Mr Mladenov and others have pointed out that the responsibility for security, that is to say for establishing a secure situation in Iraq, rests primarily with the Iraqi authorities. It is also true that we have to help them in this matter, and I would like to mention the EUJUST LEX mission again. It has been active in Iraq since 2005 and most Member States of the European Union are taking part.

Approximately 1 500 Iraqi high officials have been trained within this mission. They have been employed in the police, the judiciary and prisons. As I said, this mission will continue until the summer of 2009 and we think that it is an important advance in establishing a safer situation in Iraq.

I would like to thank Mrs Gomes once again for her report, which will serve as a very important basis for our further activities. I should mention that these include a plan for the President of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, Minister Rupel, to take part in the April meeting of Iraq’s neighbouring countries, which is to take place in Kuwait.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. − Madam President, it was a good debate and it showed that we want to use the golden opportunity to finally reconstruct Iraq and make it a stable country in the Middle East, because I fully agree that this will be a very important goal for all of us.

I would first like to clearly state that you may rest assured that we will pursue our course of action. Thank you for the positive words concerning our Head of Delegation who works there with a few staff members in very difficult circumstances – housed by the British Embassy, by the way. He and his people are doing a very good job.

We have been working with the UN Trust Fund because, at the time, nothing else was possible. After the visit by my directors and their assessment, we will cautiously see what we can do regarding capacity-building and institution-building. We fully understand that this is very dear to many of you, but please also understand that security costs will be very high. Whatever we do there directly will be very costly, otherwise it would not be possible.

Outside the Green Zone, circumstances are very difficult, except perhaps in the few areas where there are fewer security problems, one of these being the north. I do not rule out gradually working more directly, for instance in the north, but I must stress that we always have to be sure that we do not discriminate between different groups. This is something I would also like to say to Mr Belder. This is how we have been working with our projects. We have always tried to have projects that include all groups, including the Christian groups that are finding it very difficult in Iraq at this time with this Government.

Having said this, I would just like to bring to the attention of many of you who do not always see what we are doing that, for instance, we prepared successfully for the general elections held in 2005. We have rehabilitated hundreds of primary and secondary schools, which is not only for the benefit of the schools but also for the pupils. Erasmus programmes are also open for some Iraqis, so we are pursuing that. We are also producing and distributing millions of schoolbooks for six million primary and secondary students. This is very basic but necessary.

At the same time we have rehabilitated almost 200 primary healthcare centres and 10 hospitals. We have given support to the completion of eight immunisation rounds, each involving 4.7 million children aged under five. We have completely rehabilitated the national drug quality control laboratory. I could go on and on.

I think the Commission has done a great deal, on behalf of the Union, in difficult circumstances. Now, we are aware that the key question will be how much we can do regarding capacity-building. You can rest assured that we will devote a good part of our resources to this, always depending, as I have said, on the security situation. According to our last assessment this is unfortunately not yet sustainable.

I would like to say a few words about refugees. I have mentioned that we, the Commission, have naturally been working to assist refugees. The entire package for last year was EUR 50 million from various Commission instruments. These funds are aimed not only at supporting the IDPs in Iraq but also to help the Governments of Syria and Jordan in their countries. We are of course in close contact with these countries. We have given EUR 80 million to Syria and EUR 32 million to Jordan because in this small country the large influx of refugees has created a big problem.

Finally, I would just like to say that I am as convinced as the Council that the dialogue that the Parliament will now have with the Ad Hoc Delegation for Iraq represents an excellent improvement and progress. We can only work together on that. Let me assure you that we have been trying from the beginning to have a transparent flow of our money channelled through the United Nations. In the future this will be channelled more and more directly.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ana Maria Gomes, rapporteur. − (PT) I should like to thank everyone for their kind words. I must particularly thank my friend, Minister Lenarčič, who I worked with on the Security Council some years ago, dealing precisely with Iraq and the problems caused for Iraq by Saddam Hussein.

As I have said, this report aims to highlight the diversity of the situations existing in Iraq, contrary to the simplistic message of an Iraq of ‘fire and sword’ that television programmes show us every day. It must be viewed as a plan of action or a roadmap for the EU’s involvement in Iraq. I believe that I am speaking on behalf of Parliament when I say that we want the Commission, the Council and the Member States to use our operational proposals as a basis when designing future programmes and projects to support the government and people of Iraq, naturally taking into account the security conditions.

I returned from Iraq impressed with the Iraqi enthusiasm for ‘more Europe’. From President Talabani to the primary school teacher in one of the most isolated rural areas in the country, everyone had a thirst for political recognition and institutional support from the European Union. We were bombarded with proposals for projects in the most diverse areas: training of officials at the Interior Ministry, support for local NGOs active in the areas of mine clearance, adult literacy, and sexual and reproductive health education, technical and institutional support for the Iraqi Parliament, and these are only some of the examples.

I feel that we must measure the success of this report, not so much in terms of the number of votes in tomorrow’s vote, but primarily by the difference that it will make to our actions on the ground in Iraq from now on. Our parliamentary delegation to Iraq will of course play its part in this process and I am sure that we can count on the Commission, on Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner, whom I congratulate, and on her courageous team in Baghdad, competently led by Ambassador Uusitalo, as fundamental allies in the implementation of this roadmap.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR:MR BIELAN
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday.

Written Statements (Rule 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paulo Casaca (PSE), in writing.(PT) This report fails to mention the responsibility for and complicity in the dissemination of false information which served to justify the military intervention in Iraq, such as the existence and location of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and links between the former regime and international terrorism. It also passes over the responsibility for introducing into the country the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Iraqi offshoots, resulting in the spread of terrorist groups and death and genocide squads whose main targets were and continue to be ethnic and religious minorities and the country’s elite.

The report does not make relations with the European Union or even the EU’s financial support of the Iraqi authorities dependent on their commitment to fight terrorism and genocide or on the pursuit and prosecution of those responsible inside and outside the security forces. As a result it minimises the dramatic problems being experienced by millions of Iraqi refugees and displaced persons and the attacks on the most basic rights, freedoms and guarantees of Iraqis, particularly women.

The mention made of the crimes of Saddam Hussein’s regime would be acceptable if sincere and if this were not done while ignoring the current crimes and their perpetrators which have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of displaced persons.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE-DE), in writing. (FI) Madam President, I wish to thank Mrs Gomes for her valuable report. Her practical approach has resulted in an unusually clear message to the Council and the Commission as well as to the Iraqi people.

The core of the problem is patently obvious. Iraq does not lack money. It lacks stability, political will, stable institutions and the administrative ability to spend money wisely. It is in these areas that the Union has something to offer.

Firstly, Iraq is not a traditional place for development work: it is an exceptional area of activity. For this reason, no lasting results will be achieved using separate instruments. By bringing the instruments of development work and security under one umbrella the EU could step up dialogue with Iraqi society. Let transparency be the byword: the Commission must allow democratic supervision of the financial instruments.

Secondly, the Union should commit itself specifically to supporting the parliamentary dimension. We have to support the implantation of good governance and working practices in the Council of Representatives, provide training and resources for parliamentary work and, if necessary, provide expert assistance in the development of legislation – the federal state structure is a legislative challenge.

Thirdly, we need to insist that human rights lie at the heart of Iraq’s development struggle. The status of the ethnic and religious minorities depends on the Union’s input. The Christian Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs and other minority peoples, such as the Turkmen, face continual discrimination and threats to their lives. We have to make a more determined effort to stop this.

I hope that everyone here understands that this report is no longer about past mistakes. Those mistakes are acknowledged, and complaining about them is not going to help the Iraqis. We have to try hard to realise not just that the past places an obligation on us but that there will not be a future for Iraq otherwise.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tobias Pflüger (GUE/NGL), in writing. (DE) The report by Mrs Gomes on the European Union's role in Iraq unfortunately sidesteps the two main issues of relevance to the situation in Iraq.

There are currently occupying troops from the US, the United Kingdom, other Member States and many other countries stationed in Iraq. These troops have been there since the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. As we now know, the reasons cited in justification of this military action were entirely spurious (such as the lies uttered by Colin Powell before the UN Security Council about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction).

All the proposed amendments, including those tabled by my Group, the GUE/NGL, that make clear reference to the many casualties of this war and the ongoing occupation and criticise the completely inappropriate military action against Iraq have been rejected. As a result, this key aspect of the situation goes largely unmentioned in Mrs Gomes's report.

I have therefore voted against the report because as it stands, it denies the real situation in Iraq. That being the case, it would be disastrous to demand a more comprehensive role for the European Union, as this would make it part of the military and occupying regime. Nonetheless, a number of the statements made in the report merit our support, but anyone who fails to speak out against war and occupation makes themselves an accessory.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Toomas Savi (ALDE), in writing. Several Member States of the EU have sent their troops to Iraq to participate in the multinational force, United Nations assistance mission and NATO-sponsored training of the Iraqi police force, Estonia being one of those countries.

The humanitarian situation cannot be improved in Iraq unless peace and stability in the country is established. Unfortunately, both Republican and Democrat presidential candidates in the USA argue for withdrawing from Iraq, which will irresponsibly leave the country in a devastating situation.

I am confident that, if the European Union increased its involvement in Iraq by contributing funds, human resources and know-how in state-building, the deterioration of the country could be avoided. The European Union should play a vital role in Iraq as a mediator between different political and religious factions to establish a well-functioning society.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Konrad Szymański (UEN), in writing. (PL) It is my impression that Mrs Gomes has tabled not one report but two.

One of these is a factual account, laying down the principles of our involvement in Iraq. It is in stark contrast to the emotive and propaganda-like style of the justification.

One success was certainly achieved in 2003, namely the removal of an authoritarian regime that was destabilising the entire region. If the events of 2003 had not taken place we would not now be in a position to draft 25 pages of recommendations for a democratic Iraq regarding structural reforms, electoral law and the rights of minorities.

Fortunately, the vote will refer to the proposal for a recommendation. That is why I will happily support this document. It is right and proper for us to assume our responsibility for the success of a stable and democratic Iraq. I am also pleased that countries that were divided by the intervention back in 2003 will today have the opportunity to take advantage together of the opportunities opened up by that war.

 

12. European code of conduct on arms exports (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The next item is the Council and Commission statements on the European Code of Conduct for Arms Exports.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) Firstly, on behalf of the Council I would like to express satisfaction with the traditionally good relations and cooperation between the Council’s Conventional Arms Exports Working Group, COARM, and the European Parliament, more precisely with its Subcommittee on Security and Defence, SEDE. I am convinced that this well-organised and excellent cooperation will continue into the future, which is why I welcome today’s debate.

Allow me to say a few words about the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports. As we know, the code was adopted in 1998. It gave the European Union new impetus in monitoring the arms trade. In accordance with this code, the Union started making annual reports that are actually reports on completed arms transfers.

This year we will make a tenth annual report. I should also mention that these reports have become increasingly clear and informative. Because of this code, in the last few years most Member States have started to publish their national annual reports on the export of arms and military equipment. In 2003 the European Union defined its own list of arms and military equipment to be covered by the code and started more serious coordination of the policy for export to individual third countries. The Member States also exchange information concerning rejected and completed arms exports.

This dynamism has been transferred to international organisations, especially those in which Member States of the European Union play an important part. This applies especially to the Wassenaar Arrangement. The code was improved in 2006 and 2007, specifically with additions to the users’ manual.

As we know, the code is not a legally binding document. However, the Member States have a political commitment to abide by its provisions. There have been attempts in the past to build on the code by adding a common position that would be a legally binding document by which the Member States would have to abide when exporting arms. However, there is still no agreement on adopting such a common position. The Slovenian Presidency is working for its adoption during the Slovenian period of office, that is to say in the first half of this year, or at least working to achieve substantial progress in this direction.

Maybe there is no better opportunity for this progress than that offered by the preparation of the European Union’s tenth report on the implementation of the code. However, at the moment we cannot confidently predict whether our wish will be fulfilled. Of course, this is not stopping us from trying. We will therefore call on all Member States to give us their opinions on this issue and we will try to encourage them to work together on reaching a common position. If there are no impediments, the Slovenian Presidency will take great pleasure in completing the adoption procedure and will submit a report to all interested institutions, primarily to Parliament.

Allow me to say a few brief words on two other priority topics: the common position on the brokering of arms and military equipment trading, and the efforts made by the Member States to adopt internationally binding agreements on arms trading.

The European Union adopted guidelines for the brokering of arms trading in 2001, and the common position was adopted in 2003. By adopting this position, the Member States took upon themselves an obligation to adopt its elements into their national legislation and thereby regulate the brokering of arms and military equipment trading. At the moment 20 Member States have adopted the elements of this common position into their national legislation, and seven have yet to complete the process. The Presidency will follow progress in this matter, and the States which have not completed the process will be encouraged to do so as soon as possible.

Now to the last item: the international arms trade agreement. This is one of the key projects in disarmament. As you know, the European Council has recently adopted a decision to support the international agreement. The framework for the composition of the group of government experts working in this field was confirmed at last year’s General Assembly. Information about the initial work of this group is encouraging; nevertheless, a lot of effort and work will have to be invested in this process.

Within our activities, we will closely follow the work of this group and support the process leading to the international agreement.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I took a little more time on Iraq but I shall be a bit briefer now, so I will try to make good on my time.

Even if the responsibility for controlling and monitoring the sale of arms rests primarily with Member States and thus with the Council, the Commission also has a clear interest through its contribution to the implementation of the EU small arms and light weapons strategy under the common foreign and security policy.

We greatly value the effective control and monitoring of EU arms exports. We remain concerned that European controls should encourage other regions to adopt and apply – at the very least – minimum standards, in order to ensure that legitimate exports are not subsequently diverted, thereby exacerbating armed conflicts and human rights violations.

In this connection, the Commission continues to engage actively with Member States, third countries, international organisations and others in order to deal with the financing of illicit arms trafficking, often linked with illicit trade in other commodities (particularly drugs), for example diamonds.

We in the Commission took advantage of our chairmanship of the Kimberley Process last year to push for the development of controls to prevent and deter the use of diamonds to fund arms purchases by rebel groups. Further, in close collaboration with the relevant customs authorities, we intend to take forward measures under the new Instrument for Stability to combat illegal trafficking in arms by air, targeting particularly aircraft travelling to and within Africa. We also play a role in the implementation of arms embargoes by prohibiting related technical assistance.

Within the European Union, control of firearms trafficking is crucial in the fight against insecurity and criminality, especially against organised crime. The policy being developed to combat firearms trafficking involves the reinforcement of controls on the legal sale and holding of firearms within the Union. This goes on to encompass the proper monitoring of the movement of firearms within the Union and the development of cooperation between national administrations in charge.

Besides these efforts, we can see that a significant quantity of firearms is also in the possession of criminals and available on the black market. The unauthorised transfer of firearms across borders, and the transfer of unmarked firearms, are therefore important sources of these illegal weapons. Steps are currently being taken at European level to enhance rules on record keeping and marking, to develop an export/import system for firearms for civilian use, and to improve cooperation between national law enforcement administrations.

Improving the traceability of firearms is a key objective, and externally – very briefly – we are also taking concrete steps outside the Union to handle the problems arising from explosive remnants of war and small arms in crisis regions, again under the Stability Instruments. For instance, in Bosnia we are currently considering supporting a project to deal with unexploded ordnance and other explosive remnants.

Certainly we will continue to support Member States’ efforts to establish a treaty covering the arms trade, as our Council President has said, although we might not be under the illusion that this will not take a certain time. But hopefully it will happen very soon.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Urszula Gacek, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, for nearly 10 years the European Council has dragged its feet on transforming the EU code of conduct on arms transfer into a legally binding document. For the last two years there have been no technical barriers to adopting a common position on the code. Why do we finally have to get our house in order?

Firstly, there are currently estimated to be some 400 companies in our Member States producing arms. Given that research and development costs in this industry are extremely high, companies naturally wish to maximise their profits by ensuring the longest possible production runs, selling licensing agreements and, in short, seeking markets wherever they can. Companies from the 20 nations whose governments imposed strict guidelines on arms exports are clearly at an economic disadvantage vis-à-vis competitors whose governments show more leniency. All companies should have a level playing field.

Secondly, we have documented instances of companies from EU states supplying arms to China, Colombia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. How can we on the one hand applaud all efforts to promote economic development, democracy and human rights while we make the very implementation of this impossible by contributing to violent conflicts?

Thirdly, we deploy military personnel from our Member States on EU and NATO peacekeeping missions but, by failing to apply this code of conduct, we risk that they may come under fire from weapons produced within our very states as a result of irresponsible transfer.

Fourthly, how can we envisage a future Europe with a common foreign and security policy when we lack such a fundamental element in the form of a common position?

Finally, before we stand up in this Chamber championing human rights and democracy, let us ensure that we also take action that gives substance to our rhetoric.

The PPE-DE Group congratulates the authors of this motion for a resolution. We trust that the overwhelming support from Parliament will help the Council in finding a way out of the current political impasse and finally make adherence to the code of conduct a legal requirement for all Member States.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ana Maria Gomes, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (PT) The motion for a resolution on the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports expresses Parliament’s frustration at the current deadlock on this important instrument, as our rapporteur, Mrs Gacek, has just said and whom I must congratulate.

Ten years after its establishment, the Code is still a source of pride to those who believe that the European Union must take the lead in the global debate on controlling arms transfers. We welcome the increasingly harmonised application of the Code, the detail in the annual reports presented by Member States and the outreach initiatives undertaken by the Council. However, all these advances pale into insignificance beside the most important issue: the need to transform the Code into a legally binding instrument.

We know that transforming the Code of Conduct into a common position of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) has been linked with lifting the embargo on arms exports to China. Parliament rejects the blackmail that is at the root of this three-year deadlock. No one can be unaware that the arms sold by Beijing to the Sudanese regime are feeding the conflict in Darfur and are also serving, for example, to oppress and repress the Burmese people at the hands of the illegitimate military regime. This situation frustrates Parliament because we have long known the practical and theoretical reasons which should be sufficient to rid the Council of its hesitations. A European foreign policy without common and binding rules on arms exports will always be incomplete and ineffective. In addition, one of the most significant obstacles to the full harmonisation of the internal market in defence equipment is precisely the large number of export rules in the EU.

Finally, there is a question of principle: the European Union can only present itself as a responsible and coherent international actor in this area and can only lead the work to improve international legislation if it is seen as a model to be followed. We are clearly counting on the Slovenian Presidency and Minister Lenarčič. However, we have already indicated to the next country to hold the presidency, France, a country that has particular responsibility for this continuing deadlock, that the time has come to resolve the issues and recognise the importance of placing the European Union at the forefront of effective and responsible multilateralism.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Fiona Hall, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, it is 10 years since the EU agreed a code of conduct for arms exports and it is shameful that this code has not yet been transformed into an effective instrument for controlling arms exports by all EU companies and governments. As a result, European arms are still being channelled into conflict zones.

The EU finds itself in the incomprehensible position of supplying arms and fuelling conflicts in the very countries in which it is simultaneously pouring development aid. How do we explain that to our citizens? How do we explain, for example, that some Member States are still prepared to trade cluster munitions while, at the same time, the EU is spending millions of euros on mine clearance? For example, in 2005 thousands of cluster bombs were used in Lebanon with devastating results, and then in 2006 the EU spent EUR 525 million on development aid to Lebanon, partly for the removal of unexploded ordnance.

Let us not kid ourselves that it is only countries outside the EU that are supplying arms to conflict states: 7 out of 10 of the world’s top arms-exporting countries are EU Member States. Is it not time that we invested in conflict resolution for troubled states instead of arms sales?

Mechanisms are urgently needed to control arms transfers and transhipments properly and to prevent the brokering of illegal arms by EU companies located outside the EU. But the first step must be to turn the 1998 code of conduct into a legally binding instrument. So I would beg the Slovenian Presidency to do its utmost to unblock the stalemate in the Council and get the common position adopted.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Raül Romeva i Rueda, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (ES) Mr President, as rapporteur for the control of arms exports from the European Union, I have had the opportunity to follow very closely the process of transforming the current Code of Conduct into a more efficient and effective instrument that ensures greater and better controls of arms exports from EU territory and by EU companies.

Nonetheless, in spite of the technical work done some time ago by the Council Working Group on Arms (COARM), we still do not understand – and my colleagues have said the same – why the Council is resisting adopting the common position that would enable us to transform the current Code into a legally binding instrument.

In spite of the excessive secrecy surrounding debates of this kind, we know that only a few countries are opposed to such a step, notably France, which, it seems, is making this decision dependent on an end to the embargo on exporting arms to China.

We must stress once again that these are two completely separate issues: linking them in this way shows a huge lack of responsibility in relation to the numerous victims who have to cope every day with the consequences of our irresponsible arms exports policy.

I therefore welcome the commitment of the Slovenian Presidency to conclude this process of transforming the Code into a common position during its mandate, although I recall, too, that previous presidencies made the same promise to no avail. I hope that you will succeed and you can count on our full support. I would point out, too, that it is precisely the lack of control and current laxness that allow, both legally and illegally, European weapons to end up in the hands of terrorist groups, dictators and armed factions, who mortgage the present and the future of millions of people, to whom, as needed but not without a certain cynicism, we subsequently send our development aid teams.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tobias Pflüger, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, we all sit here at least once a year and discuss the issue of arms exports, while the rest of the time these exports carry on quite happily. For years Parliament has been calling for a legally binding code of conduct and the Council has been unable to reach any agreement on the matter. I would appreciate it if you could tell us quite frankly which of the Member States is obstructing this process. The fact that this Code of Conduct is not legally binding is a disgrace. While this has dragged on, the EU and its Member States have become the world's number one arms exporter. Weapons are designed to kill! All arms exports are wrong.

Naturally, the Member States supply arms to crisis and conflict regions as well. The Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, for example, which violated international law, was carried out with weapons from Germany, among others. EU countries also wage wars, notably in Iraq or Afghanistan, and supply weapons to friendly countries that are engaged in warfare. We have to put a stop to this once and for all. Let us stop all arms exports.

Dual-use goods that have civilian and military applications must also come under the Code of Conduct, as must re-exports. We have tabled amendments on both these topics for tomorrow's debate, and I am very keen to see whether they will be adopted by Parliament. As I have said, arms exports kill people every day, and they must be stopped as a matter of urgency.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) I have understood that the common mood of the participants in this debate is support for the code to become legally binding as soon as possible. I should add that the Presidency shares this objective and I hope, Mr Pflüger, that this year we will have more luck and succeed in achieving it or at least, as I said in the introduction, make major progress in this direction.

I would like to thank you for your support of the Council’s endeavours to reach a common position, and you can trust that the Slovenian Presidency will strengthen its efforts to this end.

I would like to thank Mrs Gomes, who pointed out that there is an attempt to include new players in the implementation of the code, namely those outside the European Union borders. The previous Presidencies, for example in 2007, included countries of the western Balkans, in particular, in these activities. There are also activities relating to other countries, such as Turkey, Ukraine, north African countries and some other eastern European countries.

I will end by expressing my hope that, in the next debate of this topic in the European Parliament, the discussion will not be just about the code, but also about the common position.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − I have received six motions for a resolution(1) pursuant to Rule 103(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday.

Written Statements (Rule 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tunne Kelam (PPE-DE), in writing. I strongly call on EU Member States to adopt the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers. The EU is based on common values and agreements, condemning illegal arms transfer and also arms transfer to countries which violate those values. In fact, it is detrimental to the principles on which the European Community is based that several Member States’ governments give preference to their national political and commercial interests in continuing to sell arms.

The Lisbon Treaty strengthens the role of the EU as global player. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we take the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers seriously in order to implement it in real terms and by all Member States. Therefore, I would like to call upon the Council to give a plausible explanation why the adoption of this Common Position has been delayed.

 
  

(1) See Minutes.


13. Situation in Chad (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The next item is the Council and Commission statements on the situation in Chad.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) As you already know, the situation in Chad has deteriorated in the last few weeks. At the beginning of February the Chad rebels advanced on the capital N'Djamena and took the larger part of it. A few days later they withdrew, that is to say they were pushed eastwards towards the Chad–Sudan border. Attacks on the Chad government by the rebel groups at the beginning of February not only started the smouldering internal crisis, but also revealed its regional dimension. In other words, the rebels, aided by Sudan, arrived from Darfur. This is why, when debating the situation in Chad, we must take into account two interconnected aspects: the internal political aspect and the regional aspect.

When in February the European Council condemned the attacks by the Chad rebels on the Chad government, on the one hand it appealed for a political dialogue among the government, the opposition and the rebels, and on the other hand it emphasised the urgent need for a political dialogue between the governments of Chad and Sudan. We think that the governments of Chad and Sudan should be put under increased pressure to fulfil the obligations they undertook in various agreements. The Council appealed to both governments immediately to stop assisting and supplying armed groups and to improve mutual relations.

As regards the internal political situation in Chad, a political solution to the argument is the only way to achieve peace and stability in that country. The inclusive political process, which was indicated in the agreement reached in August 2007 between the Chad ruling party and the parties of the legitimate opposition, must continue. In this context, the European Union supports the efforts of the African Union for a peaceful solution to the conflict. The European Union joins the African Union and the United Nations in their unequivocal condemnation of the rebel attacks. We share their concern regarding the risk of further proliferation of the conflict.

We are also concerned because of the deterioration of the humanitarian situation. Ever-increasing hostilities have deepened the humanitarian tragedy and increased the already large number of refugees and displaced persons. More than 160 people have died in the fighting and approximately 1 000 have been wounded. Several tens of thousands of refugees have fled to neighbouring Cameroon and Nigeria. At the same time, because there are about 250 000 Darfur refugees in Chad, the humanitarian situation is very serious and demands the urgent full deployment of the European mission EUFOR TCHAD/RCA.

At the moment the security situation in the capital N'Djamena and in the greater part of the country, except in the east, has calmed down and is returning to normal following the latest fighting. However, the state of emergency which was declared on 15 February and was intended to last a fortnight has been extended to the middle of this month. This has caused the EU to declare its concern regarding the restriction of civil and media freedom in Chad.

Activities surrounding the deployment of the EUFOR mission resumed after a temporary interruption. The commander of the operation, General Nash, concluded that he would temporarily halt activities following the rebel attacks, to allow an evaluation of the new political and security situation. Deployment was continued without affecting the overall time frame of the operation, and the initial operating capability should still be reached by the middle of March.

The alarming situation in the region made the importance of the mandates of the EUFOR and United Nations missions even more obvious. The EUFOR mission testifies to the commitment of the European Union to aid the stabilisation of the region. Two things are required to reach the set targets: we urgently need security guaranteed by military and, secondly, the conflicting parties should be prepared to start a dialogue and negotiations.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. − (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, on my return from the mission to Chad from 20 to 22 January 2008, I had already stated that Chad ought to be an EU priority. The attempted coup at the beginning of February by armed rebel movements and ensuing events have served to reinforce this conviction.

I am still convinced that lasting stability in Chad depends on a political opening to all its internal components. That is the task the European Commission took on last year by facilitating and backing the political dialogue, which, as you know, produced the inter-Chadian agreement of 13 August 2007. I strongly believe that it is only this dialogue that can create the political perspective needed to guarantee stability in Chad and consolidate democracy. It must result in a reliable census and a review of the electoral system leading to free and transparent legislative elections in 2009.

I conveyed this message with some force to President Déby; this process had already begun through the monitoring committee. Recent events in N'Djamena caused setbacks to this process. Even though there was an attempted coup against the government, the extrajudicial arrest of a number of opposition leaders, civilians and people working in the media is completely regrettable and unacceptable. As a facilitator and observer of implementation of the inter-Chadian political agreement of 13 August, I was the first to voice my concerns on the subject to President Déby during my last visit to Chad on 27 February.

During the mission I urged President Déby and the political representatives of the presidential majority and the democratic opposition, that is, all responsible politicians in Chad, to relaunch the dynamics of political dialogue by restoring confidence among the various parties. This requires commitment by all the political players concerned, including President Déby of course, who confirmed his desire to continue as the guarantor of implementation of this political agreement. I was assured that the state of emergency declared in mid-February would come to an end in the terms laid down in the Constitution, i.e. in mid-March.

On the same occasion we requested and obtained from President Déby the release of Mr Lol Mahamat Choua, President of the Coordination of Political Parties for the Defence of the Constitution. Bernard Kouchner and I requested a meeting with him. We met him in person and he was thus released the following day. I am also particularly pleased to learn that Mr Ngarlejy Yorongar is in Strasbourg at the moment and may have met some of you, but I am obviously still concerned about the fate of Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, who is still missing. This is why we successfully requested that President Déby establish an extended committee of inquiry with a substantial international presence, including representatives of the European Union, the OIF and the African Union. This committee must shed light on the arrests and disappearances. This will be an important initial step in restoring confidence and ensuring a return to normality in Chad.

The same message was also sent to members of the opposition. The solution lies in joint responsibility on the part of the government, the presidential majority and the opposition. I wish to conclude with a brief explanation of the regional context: the coup bid in Chad was largely the direct consequence of a deterioration in relations between Chad and Sudan. It is extremely difficult not to see the influence of the Khartoum authorities on the attempted coup.

It is therefore essential to put an end to the cross-contamination of the situations in Darfur and Chad. I welcome optimistically the regional initiatives for mediation between Chad and Sudan, which regional Heads of State or Government are now implementing, notably President Wade. The present situation proves, were any proof still required, that European military and civil forces must be urgently and rapidly deployed.

I now wish to mention the MINURCAT Mission in accordance with UN Resolution 1778 of 2007. The raison d'être of this military operation has been ascertained as never before. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are forced to live in extremely vulnerable conditions in eastern Chad, impatiently awaiting EUFOR deployment. The Commission will continue to mobilise all political instruments for humanitarian assistance and cooperation in response to the situation in Chad. I am awaiting the results of the mediation led by President Wade in order to determine or at least define when I will return, not only to Chad, but also to Khartoum. It is vital that we carry out mediation and reconciliation work between N'Djamena and Khartoum, since the tense interaction of a complete breakdown in relations between Chad and Sudan is obviously palpable.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Colm Burke, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, I am happy that this debate has remained on the plenary agenda for this week. This situation in Chad requires urgent attention, not only from the European Union, but also from the international community. A summit is due to take place later this week between Chad and Sudan in Dakar, where the Senegalese President will try his utmost to reach common ground on a peace deal between President Déby and President al-Bashir. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also plans to attend these talks in Dakar, the humanitarian crisis in this region being one of his main priorities.

Such current events underline the importance of Parliament’s timely debate this afternoon and I call on all leaders in question to make supreme efforts to resume an all-inclusive political reconciliation process.

The European Union must also make extensive diplomatic moves to support these latest developments. Just before this debate, several of my MEP colleagues and I met with Chadian leader and opposition Member of Parliament, Mr Yorongar, who went missing after the rebel offensive in early February. He was seized by state security forces on 3 February in Chad, but managed to escape to Cameroon before being offered asylum in France. His colleague and fellow opposition politician Mahamat Saleh remains missing. The current crackdown on political opponents, as well as human rights defenders, in Chad must end.

The EU peace-keeping mission has unfortunately suffered its first fatality, after a French peace-keeper mistakenly strayed into Sudanese territory. His funeral takes place today. It will be attended by Mr von Wogau from our group as Chair of the Committee on Security and Defence of the European Parliament. I offer condolences from the PPE-DE Group to this man’s family and friends.

In my view, and due to the current humanitarian and security situation, the deployment of the European peace-keeping mission has become indispensable. The United Nations and European Union have a responsibility to protect vulnerable civilians and a duty to provide humanitarian assistance, as well as security for humanitarian personnel. As they continue their respective deployment, I am proud that Irish troops are forming part of this mission.

Finally, I welcome the commitment by Russia to provide helicopters to this mission. Such equipment will offer essential reinforcement in this important EU undertaking.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alain Hutchinson, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (FR) Mr President, Representative of the President-in-Office, Commissioner, for many months now we have been asking about and following extremely closely the EU initiatives to urgently deploy EUFOR in Chad and the Central African Republic, insofar as it is of course essential that this European transition force be operational. Why is it essential? I feel that it is a good idea to repeat this: it is essential so that it is in a position to protect civilian refugees and displaced persons, to allow humanitarian aid to get through, and to guarantee a humanitarian space that has been systematically flouted by the warring parties.

The European Socialists wish to make it clear, however, that the solution to lasting peace in Chad will not be a purely military solution, but also political. On the political terrain, civil society in Chad has offered up a number of specific options to solve the crisis, based on comprehensive dialogue with all players, including the leaders of armed groups, without whose cooperation nothing can be achieved.

We may now wonder whether the EU has taken account of the proposals, and the speech by the Commissioner encourages us in this. We occasionally get the impression, however, as does the civil society I mentioned, that the EU continues to place blind trust in President Déby's supposed ability to solve the crisis. It becomes clearer every day, however, that President Déby alone will never be in a position to bring the peace we expect to Chad.

We thus welcome the statements that have been made on behalf of the European Commission. We hope that it will continue to demonstrate its political courage and daring on this issue.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Philippe Morillon, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (FR) Mr President, today, as Mr Burke has just said, Staff Sergeant Polin was given military honours today after he was killed in Sudan during the laudable and extremely difficult EUFOR mission in Chad and the Central African Republic. Please allow me to join the homage to him by his comrades-in-arms in the presence of the most senior national and European authorities, especially our High Representative, Javier Solana, and our colleague Karl von Wogau.

For years this House has relentlessly asked the EU to take up its responsibility to protect the victims of the bloody confrontations in Darfur and surrounding regions. It had thus deplored the constant political obstacles preventing deployment of an international force to this end. It also welcomed the adoption, as you pointed out, Commissioner, of UN Security Council Resolution 1778 for the deployment of a military operation in Chad and the Central African Republic as back-up to the UN mission, MINURCAT and a Chad police force.

There is no point saying anything now about the host of difficulties encountered to implement the international force, which was scheduled for deployment in November 2007, finally commenced only at the end of January, and will not be completed until May this year as per the current schedule. Mr President-in-Office, you mentioned the extent to which action by rebel forces in N'Djamena had delayed the mission, but some mention must also be made of the lack of means at the disposal of the European Union to deal with this kind of mission, particularly concerning logistics and helicopters. Here I welcome the announcement yesterday that Russia intends to provide the EU with essential means to assist troops on the ground on this kind of terrain.

Perhaps, Mr President-in-Office, you could shed some additional light on this news?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Brian Crowley, on behalf of the UEN Group. – Mr President, I should like to thank the President-in-Office, as well as the Commissioner, for their update with regard to the present situation in Chad, and like my colleagues, Mr Burke and Mr Morillon, I want to pay my tribute and extend my sympathy to the family of the French peacekeeper who died in action recently.

One of the horrors that we all have to face in discussing and looking at the situation in Chad, and indeed in that part of Africa in general, is the continuing instability, not just in Chad itself but also in Sudan and the Darfur region and in the Central African Republic, and in other aspects – and, in particular, the outside influences that occur across the different borders that are there. That is why it makes it so difficult to try to find common ground to get solutions. It is all very well to say that we are going to include civil society, but civil society is not given the opportunity to rise and show what it truly wants to see happening, because different rebel forces or opposition forces are there.

That is why the issue that we are now focusing on through the Eurofor mechanism is not only the stability and protection of the refugees from Sudan who have come into Chad – over a quarter of million, of whom nearly 10 000 came in the last month – and also refugees coming from the Central African Republic, but to try and ensure that democracy and the democratisation of the issue are brought to the forefront as well. That is why I congratulate Commissioner Michel on the work he has been undertaking with the – and I use the word guardedly – ‘legitimate’ Government in Chad and other areas to encourage them to operate properly. Unfortunately, I do not have the same confidence in the independence of the inquiry into the missing, which will take place under the Chadian authorities, but, hopefully, with European Union involvement, that might be encouraged.

My last point is that our troops are now being deployed, thanks to the help from Russia and other countries. Last week I spoke with Lieutenant General Pat Nash, the Operational Commander, who informed me that at the moment there are 700 troops there – 56 of whom are Irish – and the full complement will be there before the rainy season, hopefully by the start of May.

What is incumbent on us now in this Parliament is to give our support to that continuing peacekeeping force by our political actions, by our words but, most importantly of all, by ensuring that they have the proper resources to carry out their task as well.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marie-Hélène Aubert, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (FR) Mr President, the human rights situation and situation of the civilian population is still critical in Chad, and no initiative towards political dialogue has any chance of succeeding if we do not first have a clear response concerning the fate of the members of the opposition arrested on 3 February, and if there is no end to the violence that always occurs, even as we speak, against those whom Idriss Déby brutally sees as adversaries to be eliminated.

That is why, Commissioner, it is vital you keep up the pressure as you have in the past in order to force Idriss Déby to say where Ibni Mahamat Saleh in particular is, and what has become of him, and to release him if he is still alive. I wish to take this opportunity to welcome and express my solidarity with his son, present today in the galleries, and the parliamentary representative, Mr Yorongar, who has come to talk to us on his country’s situation and future.

Commissioner, Mr President-in-Office, ladies and gentlemen, the Chadian diaspora, very much present in Strasbourg today, is listening carefully to you and is relying on you to produce inclusive dialogue that does not exclude any political players in Chad. It is under these conditions that the prospects for peace and a democratic process are possible, in association with all parties, and under these conditions that EUFOR may finally deploy in the best conditions, thus emerging from the ambiguity and uncertainty brought about by recent events. The EU’s role must be fully clarified I relation to France’s role in this region, which has clearly allowed Idriss Déby to remain in power, even if the discourse employed by the French President has now become more open and calls for changes to previous policies.

Commissioner, Mr President, you must use your considerable potential for pressure to obtain genuine assurances and protection for all democrats in Chad, and thus take a more demanding attitude with President Déby, who at the present time is merely attempting to gain some time and save face.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tobias Pflüger, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (DE) Mr President, the EU has deployed a EUFOR mission in Chad and one EUFOR peacekeeper has already been killed. That was exactly what we feared would happen. It is alleged that the French elite troops accidentally crossed the border into Sudan.

Is there any point at all to this EUFOR mission? We say no! These troops cannot possibly be neutral. The majority of the EUFOR troops come from France, and France has a military agreement with Déby – who seized power in a military coup – and has aided him by supplying him with weapons and securing the airport against the rebel attack. This rebel attack was launched shortly before the start of the EUFOR deployment. In other words, the mission escalated the conflict and has thus been counterproductive.

Idriss Déby exploited the situation after the rebel attack to quell the democratic opposition. The EU has become embroiled in this mess. We urge you to pull out the EUFOR troops! France – and therefore, indirectly, the EU – is working hand in glove with Chad's military ruler, Déby. The democratic opposition in Chad is calling for more civil society pressure on the government, and that should really be our position here, not the further militarisation of the conflict.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Maria Martens (PPE-DE). – (NL) I would like to thank the Commission and the Council for these statements. I think that they are very useful. Central Africa is dominated by the greatest human rights disaster in the world, and it is continuing to grow.

As has already been said, thousands of refugees have fled from Darfur to Chad, but with continuing violence in Chad people are now also escaping to Cameroon, Nigeria and the Central African Republic. Sudanese military and peace-keeping agents largely support the well-armed Chadian rebels in the border area between Darfur and Chad, and in addition to the Sudanese Government they also get support from the Arab militias in Darfur. This triggers the massive flow of refugees.

Mr President, we cannot remain aloof. We must do all we can to break the impasse in Sudan and Chad and to stabilise this area of conflict, both through political dialogue and by providing support and protection for citizens and aid organisations. It is good that the European Union has decided on a common peace mission to Chad with the aim of protecting its citizens and guaranteeing humanitarian aid.

Mr President, General Henri Bentegeat, Chairman of the EU Military Committee, has reported that equipment is a problem. Can the Council indicate with which countries they are still negotiating regarding possible contributions?

Millions of people have lived for years in this dangerous situation without there being any substantial change. We cannot not succeed. My question to the Commission and the Council is whether there is anything more to say about making this a state-of-the-art, operational mission.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Thijs Berman (PSE). – (NL) The rapid availability of neutral EUFOR troops and equipment in Chad is necessary for the security of refugees and inhabitants and for the stability of the region. If the EU wishes to contribute effectively to this, then the Member States, including the Netherlands, must fulfil their promises so that EUFOR can be fully deployed as quickly as possible. The Member States must not, by their slow reaction, cause the supply of troops and equipment and the commitment of EUFOR to be unnecessarily delayed. Helicopters are also necessary from Russia, so that at least they cannot continue wreaking havoc in Chechnya.

However, it is not only the humanitarian situation that at risk, but the stability of the whole region. The border conflict between Chad and Sudan is making the situation worse. The peace negotiations between the Presidents of Chad and Sudan, through Senegal’s President, Abdoelaye Wade, are perhaps a step in the right direction. The EU must support this, in the same way that the EU remains in Kenya in the background, but strongly supported by Kofi Annan.

Louis Michel has rightly noted that political dialogue between all players cannot fail to take place. The EU must fight much more strongly, however, for the release of the opposition leaders and human rights activists who have disappeared. Otherwise; dialogue is impossible. Just as in Kenya in January, ‘business as usual does not apply here. Freedom and dialogue must become the conditions for the continuation of aid to Chad.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jens Holm (GUE/NGL). – (SV) Mr President, the conflict in Chad cannot be seen in isolation from that in Darfur, in Sudan. It is fairly clear that the Government of Chad is supporting rebels in Darfur. The Chadian opposition reports that Darfur rebels are fighting side by side with the Chadian Government army against Chadian rebels.

My country, Sweden, is contributing a few hundred soldiers to the EUFOR mission. The purpose of the mission is to guarantee the security of the civilian population, but unfortunately there is evidence that the force is being used as a pawn in the internal game in Chad. The President of Chad, Idriss Déby, has made a statement calling on EUFOR to take eastern Chad as soon as possible. Déby clearly wants to use EUFOR to secure the survival of his own regime.

Let me put a question to the Commission and the Council: how can you guarantee that EUFOR will act entirely independently of such pressures? What do you think about the cooperation of the Déby Government with the rebels in Darfur? Am I wrong? In that case, convince me! As regards the prisoners from the civilian opposition in Chad, it is good that there have been some releases, but much more needs to be done. What is the EU doing to ensure that all political prisoners are released immediately?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Geoffrey Van Orden (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I have expressed my serious reservations about the Chad operation from the start. The EU should not be meddling in military matters. In any case, the situation in Darfur and the neighbouring areas of Chad and the Central African Republic require a well thought-out, coherent policy, politically driven, that would include the imposition of a no-fly zone – a task that only an organisation such as NATO is competent to undertake. What we now see is a half-baked, politically contrived operation, pursuing largely French objectives, with the EU playing catch-up.

It is appalling that such a precarious operation was set in motion without a proper assessment of the threat and without provision of key equipment capabilities prior to deployment. I am thinking in particular of the lack of helicopters. No European ally was willing to offer them. Now, as an afterthought, we are told that the Russians will provide the helicopters – not only that, but Russia wishes to participate in the mission. What does this say about EU motives? So desperate to create any patchwork, hazardous alliance as long as it does not involve the Americans. This exposes the reality of such activities. I can think of no greater condemnation of European security and defence policy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bogusław Sonik (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, an important element of our mission to Chad should be wide-ranging political action aimed at effective mediation between both feuding sides. Unless an understanding is reached between the governments in Khartoum and N’djamena the mission may prove futile and any results quickly reversed. It is therefore important for us to participate in wide-ranging mediation involving international institutions so as to encourage the leaders of both countries to resolve contentious issues.

The European Union’s mission is tasked with improving security for the humanitarian missions in Eastern Chad. Experts in international politics have pointed out that this could lead to an increased flow of refugees from the area of Darfur, seeking a safe haven where they will be safe from armed rebel groups. If this comes about, we may well find ourselves in a difficult situation if we recall the statements made by the Prime Minister of Chad, who recently called upon the international community to remove the refugees. The Prime Minister also threatened that if no action was taken, the Chadian authorities would remove the refugees from Chad themselves. I am sure that such statements will remind all of us of the conflicts in the Balkans, where the various sides dealt with national minorities and refugees in a similar manner.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Urszula Gacek (PPE-DE). – Mr President, the very name Darfur has become synonymous with human misery and suffering. The fall-out from the war in Sudan has spilled over the border into Chad, with nearly 300 000 refugees from Sudan putting an enormous strain on Chad’s economy and political stability. Without a political solution to problems in this region, there will be no prospect of peace. At this time, however, we must also deal with the immediate situation, and with this aim in mind the EU is sending 3 700 military personnel to protect the refugees.

Poland is sending a 400-strong contingent, including engineers and medics. Our military personnel face dangerous and harsh conditions and will witness harrowing scenes. They deserve our gratitude and respect for the task they are undertaking. They did not deserve the criticism from the extreme Left and Euro-sceptics in this Chamber.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE-DE). – (FI) Mr President, everyone we hear speak today says that there is a pressing need for humanitarian aid. Many aid workers, however, have had to withdraw from the region because it is not safe. The UN’s refugee agency has reported that the situation with regard to security and assistance in refugee camps is particularly poor and that sexual violence is widespread.

The Chadian government’s declaration of a state of emergency on 15 February has accelerated that country’s decline into chaos. The declaration is an especially worrying way of addressing the crisis and confusion. In practice it gives the government the right to silence and to detain both the actual and suspected representatives of the opposition. The state of emergency also gives the government the right to place restrictions on citizens’ freedom of movement and assembly and the right to control private and state media.

The EU should appeal to the Chadian Government to lift the state of emergency and should encourage Chad to participate in closer cooperation in order to guarantee access on the part of organisations delivering humanitarian aid to the crisis areas and to make it possible for them to work there. This should happen as soon as possible.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE-DE). – (SK) In Chad at present more than 250 000 Sudanese refugees live in 12 refugee camps in the eastern part of the country. At the same time (although this is mentioned less often), Chad is right now also a place of refuge for 57 000 refugees from the Central African Republic, who live in four camps in the south of the country.

Let us not forget that women account for more than 56% of refugees. More than 60% of refugees are under 18 years of age and that is why I want more attention to be paid to education and health care, in addition to the basic conditions of human survival. Apart from that, there is a large group in Chad, totalling 180 000 people, who have become internally displaced due to the internal security conditions. Most of them are in the eastern part of the country and lack the basic conditions for survival including food, everyday objects, clothing, drinking water, supply of medicines and vaccines.

I call on the Commission to find effective mechanisms so that our mission to Chad has far greater authority and much better technical equipment, including medical equipment.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gay Mitchell (PPE-DE). – Mr President, my colleague has given the figures and I will not repeat them, except to say that, of the 57 000 figure he spoke of, 12 000 of those have gone to the Central African Republic since the beginning of 2008. We now have in Chad a large contingent of Irish troops. I wish them well. They are part of a large EU contingent – 14 EU states in total, while there are 21 Member States participating in the operational headquarters.

The situation is this: we have a very serious humanitarian problem on our hands. I do not agree with those who say that this can only be sorted out by NATO. This can be sorted out by Eurofor if they are organised – and they are now organising to do it. I welcome the fact that they are at last getting the tools with which to do the job, but let us give them the time to bed in and to actually go about making the place safe for humanitarian aid and support them while they are there, rather than sniping at them with the sort of nasty, political comments we heard from the extreme Left here today.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) I would like to answer some more important questions from this debate, firstly regarding some technical resources and equipment, that is to say helicopters. This is not a problem specific to the European Union. The same issues are facing others, too: NATO, the United Nations and so on, but of course that is not an excuse.

I would like to reassure Mr Morillon and Mr Van Orden that European bodies are active on this issue. At the moment the European Defence Agency is working on this problem, that is to say on a long-term solution to the helicopter issue. As has already been mentioned, negotiations with the Russian Federation are taking place to secure helicopters. At the moment I have no information about the phase reached so far or whether the negotiations have finished. However, I know they are taking place.

As regards the deployment of this mission, and in response to the question from several Members of Parliament, among them Mrs Martens, I would like to reiterate that there was a 12-day interruption in the deployment of the mission, which has now ended. The deployment is continuing and, as I said in my introduction, we do not expect the overall time frame of the operation to be affected. Despite this 12-day delay, the overall framework will not be affected. As planned, the initial operating capability will be reached in a few days, in the middle of this month.

As regards the first victim of this operation, a member of the French contingent, I have to say that an inquiry is still taking place. The funeral was attended today by the High Representative, Mr Solana, and the Commander of the operation, General Nash, who expressed sympathy on behalf of the European Union.

I would like to end with the following thoughts. The European Union is aware of the seriousness of the crisis in Chad and its regional dimension, which I have mentioned before. This is why it will continue to encourage dialogue between the government and the opposition in Chad itself, as well as between the governments of Chad and Sudan.

We see EUFOR as a significant contribution to these efforts and we are aware of the importance of good equipment. I would like to comment on the statement by Mr Holm and stress that the EUFOR mission in Chad is part of MINURCAT, the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad. That is why impartiality and independence are among the fundamental principles of this operation, that is to say of the United Nations’ Mission and the EUFOR operation. These fundamental principles of neutrality and impartiality are those of the EUFOR operation in Chad and the Central African Republic.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. − (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I also wish to begin by paying homage to the French soldier who died on active service during a dangerous peace-keeping mission. We wish to express our condolences to the family of this soldier, the victim of a difficult mission.

I was not aware that Mr Yorongar and Mr Saleh’s son were in the galleries. I also wish, therefore, to welcome them and tell them – though this has not been officially requested of me – that I am naturally willing to meet them if they wish to apprise me of any information I may lack. I am very happy to meet with them.

Several of you spoke along the lines of my initial comments, in other words, to the effect that we are increasingly calling for inclusive dialogue to bring together all the parties involved: the government, of course, the government majority, the representatives of the opposition, including – and I have made this quite clear to President Déby – the representative of the armed rebels, but also – and here I would perhaps like to have everyone's support – the representatives of civil society, since they are very much absent from the process, and I do not detect any great desire in any of the other camps to include them. At my meeting with the representatives of the Monitoring Committee led by Mr Lol, I was able to tell them it is equally important that civil society be involved in the process.

Secondly, I believe that there will be no lasting solution without dialogue, but there cannot be any lasting solution in Chad if there is no solution or no restoration of relations between Sudan and Chad. It has been clearly established that there are various influences at play here, and thus it seems to me that this is another parameter of the solution.

Mrs Aubert, I obviously agree with your concerns and the need to exert maximum pressure on President Déby, and in fact on everyone concerned, to ensure that human rights are respected. I have spoken out very clearly and firmly against the arbitrary extrajudicial arrests. A demand has also been made for the state of emergency to be lifted, with no ambiguities. As I said, we also asked for the committee of inquiry to be open to the representatives of the international community in order to guarantee objectivity and tangible results.

I wish, however, to make a small clarification in relation to your request for the EU to have a policy that differs from that of France, since otherwise this would not be intellectually honest on my part. I was party to President Sarkozy’s extremely clear message to Mr Déby. I did not get the impression there was any kind of alliance of interests between the French President, in other words, France's most senior representative, and President Déby. The tone, content and substance of the message were entirely unambiguous. I must say that his words left a very favourable impression. In my presence he clearly spoke out to Mr Déby against the arbitrary extrajudicial arrests and the fact that nobody knew where the missing people were, and he strongly emphasised the need for inclusive dialogue involving every single party.

Concerning the deployment of EUFOR MINURCAT, we are pleased to report the redeployment of EUFOR Chad/Central African Republic on Tuesday, 12 February. EUFOR, of course, is an essential contribution by the EU to the protection of the civil population in eastern Chad and to regional stabilisation. I do not agree with those who oppose this as I feel that they are wrong to underestimate the importance of this mission or even to say we have no business going there; that is not my position at all. The European Commission has drawn up an action plan to accompany the stabilisation process, to support the voluntary return of displaced populations to their original villages and to relaunch development in the areas of eastern Chad affected by the conflict.

The EUFOR mission – which now consists of 600 men, 380 of whom are posted in Abéché – was deployed on 12 February 2008 and is due to achieve its initial operating capacity by mid-March and its full operating capacity by June, i.e. 3 700 men, which should ensure deployment of MINURCAT. Deployment of MINURCAT is crucial in terms of providing security and protection for civilians in eastern Chad, and obviously also contributes to monitoring and the promotion and defence of human rights. It is an extremely important committed observer. Deployment of MINURCAT is all the more important because the Commission made arrangements for a programme to monitor the legal and prisons system in 2007 and reform the security system by 2008-2011. We would remind the House that the Chadian authorities must approve the MINURCAT operating procedures as soon as possible because any additional delays could obviously affect the deployment schedule for the Chad humanitarian protection police force, more than half of the budget for which is financed by the Commission.

I would like to say a few words on Community support in eastern Chad. The Commission has been providing humanitarian aid to eastern Chad since 2004, and aid in 2007 totalled EUR 30 million. The European Commission also allocated EUR 10 million to deployment of the MINURCAT police force. Through the 9th European Development Fund it has allocated over EUR 13 million to implement a rehabilitation support programme for Chad and the Central African Republic. It has also agreed to support, within its means, a process of reconciliation between the ethnic groups that clashed in 2006 and have had no further relations since a wave of massive population displacements. Implementation of these programmes, however, requires lasting stabilisation of the sub-region.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I felt that it was important to make these points. I would like you to know in any case – and I wish to say this publicly – that I fully undertake to monitor this issue on a daily basis. I am willing to go there when I feel that that would be necessary and useful, and I can do this at very short notice. I have arranged to meet President Beshir quite soon, and President Déby again, particularly on the issue of relations between Sudan and Chad. In addition, I will obviously continue to maintain the necessary contacts with the various political actors and civil society in a bid to make progress on this inclusive dialogue, without which there cannot be any lasting solution in the region.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The debate is closed.

Written Statements (Rule 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bairbre de Brún (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (GA) Irish soldiers are famed for their involvement in peace-keeping operations with the United Nations in places where there is crisis or conflict. It should be the United Nations who leads the way in terms of peace-keeping operations, but this cannot be achieved by participation in European battle groups of this kind.

There is a particular problem with participation in the EUFOR group in Chad. France has a central role in this force. Yet, other French soldiers are giving support to Idriss Déby, the President of Chad, who has been heavily criticised by Amnesty International. In addition, Chad is a former colony of France.

There is a danger that Irish forces will be perceived as a supporting force for a government whose human rights record has come under suspicion. There is a danger that Ireland will no longer be perceived as neutral.

An international force is needed to support those who are in difficulty in Chad, but it should really be a United Nation’s force.

 

14. Announcement by the President
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR PÖTTERING
President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − Dear colleagues, today I would like to inform you about the action I have taken following the serious disruption of the formal sitting held here in Strasbourg on Wednesday, 12 December 2007 to mark the signing of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, incidents which I am sure you all remember.

After the Conference of Presidents had considered the incidents in question, on the basis of Rule 147 of the Rules of Procedure I invited a number of Members for discussions with a view to hearing their version of events before taking any decision on possible disciplinary action. I informed each of the Members concerned of the reason for the invitation.

The basis of parliamentarianism is freedom of speech. In a democratic parliament, no speaker may be prevented from expressing his or her views by means of systematic heckling by colleagues who hold differing views. Naturally enough, this applies all the more to speakers who address the plenary as guests and representatives of other institutions. I made clear that I had invited the Members concerned for discussions because, despite my calls for order in plenary, they continued, by means of their heckling, their attempts to prevent speakers from addressing Parliament. Disciplinary action is not being taken because they held up posters and banners. The issue at stake here is the attempt to restrict freedom of speech.

Following the discussions I referred to above, I decided, pursuant to Rule 147(3) of the Rules of Procedure, to take the following measures:

In nine cases forfeiture of the entitlement to the subsistence allowance for periods of between two and five days, in one case five days, in six cases three days and in two cases two days, and in a further case the issuing of a reprimand.

With a view to explaining why I imposed these penalties, I should like to read to you what I wrote to the Members concerned when I informed them about the disciplinary action taken against them. I quote: 'I fully accept your right, and the right of any Member, to be opposed to the Charter of Fundamental Rights or the Treaty of Lisbon and to express that view in accordance with the provisions of the Rules of Procedure. I also have a degree of understanding for the very emotional responses which such matters sometimes elicit.

However, I consider that a distinction has to be made between conduct which is legitimate in the light of the Rules of Procedure and disruption of the kind which occurred on 12 December. We cannot permit any actions which have the result of preventing other Members or official guests – in this case the Presidents of other European Union Institutions – from speaking in a dignified manner and without deliberate interruption, after they have been given the floor pursuant to Rule 9(2) of the Rules of Procedure, and moreover in accordance with the agenda adopted by Parliament itself. It is a core principle of parliamentarianism and democracy that, in exercising freedom of opinion, the freedom of others must also be respected – in this case the freedom of those who have been given the floor to speak in plenary.'

Pursuant to Rule 147 of the Rules of Procedure, the ten Members concerned were informed of the decision relating to them. The following have forfeited their entitlement to the subsistence allowance: Jim Allister for 3 days, Godfrey Blum for 2 days, Sylwester Chruszcz for 2 days, Paul Marie Coûteaux for 5 days, Maciej Marian Giertych for 3 days, Roger Helmer for 3 days, Roger Knapman for 3 days, Hans-Peter Martin for 3 days and Philippe de Villiers for 3 days. Vladimír Železný is reprimanded.

In addition, the chairmen of the bodies, delegations and committees to which the Members belong have been informed.

In three cases I have refrained from applying Rule 147, because, after having discussed the matter with the Members concerned, I arrived at the conclusion that these colleagues did not take part in the action.

Colleagues, this is my decision. I felt obliged to announce it to you officially and publicly here, so that Parliament would be informed about what I had to do. I hope that we shall not witness any further incidents similar to that which occurred here in the European Parliament on 12 December 2007.

(Applause)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR DOS SANTOS
Vice-President

 

15. Question Time (Council)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The next item is questions to the Council (B6-0013/2008).

The following questions have been put to the Council.

As they deal with the same subject, the following questions will be taken together:

Question No 1 by Marian Harkin (H-0077/08)

Subject: Lisbon Treaty

Are there any issues that still need to be clarified in the current text of the Lisbon Treaty, and have all the concerns of the Slovenian Presidency regarding substance, procedure and time-frame for implementation of the Treaty been met? If this is not the case, could the Council outline what the outstanding issues are?

Question No 2 by Gay Mitchell (H-0097/08)

Subject: Council President

Have there been any preliminary discussions in the Council on who is going to be the President of the EU Council once the Treaty of Lisbon is ratified?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gay Mitchell (PPE-DE). – Mr President, on a point of order, it most certainly is not the same. Could we please have some respect for the rights of Members of Parliament? To be adding questions together in this way is a disgrace. One Question Time is getting worse than the next! There is no relationship whatsoever between the two questions. I protest strongly at the way Members of this House are treated.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − I understand, Mr Mitchell, but the more time we spend on these matters, the less time we will have to get answers to other questions also legitimately put by Members. It was a Council decision to answer these questions together. The honourable Member will not suffer as he will of course have the opportunity to speak on his particular question. I therefore feel that he will not suffer any loss.

We will therefore continue with our work; otherwise we will waste more time that we cannot afford to lose. It is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve a minimum level of productivity in these Question Times, which are so important for our parliamentary work. Mr President-in-Office of the Council, you have the floor.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) I should stress that, as far as the Council is concerned, it makes no difference whether we answer these questions together or separately. It is not up to us to decide. In this matter we comply with the wishes of this Parliament.

I will first answer Mrs Harkin’s question. Let me stress that the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon depends on ratification by all 27 Member States. However, it is clear that, as with all significant amendments to the Treaty, a few preparatory acts are necessary for the Lisbon Treaty to enter into force. In accordance with the authority given by the European Council decisions of December 2007, the Slovenian Presidency has started those preparations. I emphasise that the work relating to implementation has reached that level and it is only of a technical and precursory nature.

While the ratification process is still underway and has not been finalised, this work will still be only of a temporary and preliminary nature. It will only be possible to debate many aspects of the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty after it has entered into force. There are also many examples where some aspects of implementation will only be debatable if proposed by the Commission.

The Council intends to keep Parliament informed of progress, and it will cooperate closely with Parliament on all those aspects of the preparations for implementation of the Lisbon Treaty which are of interest to both institutions.

Secondly, I will answer Mr Mitchell’s question. The answer is ‘no’, the Council has not yet debated who should become President of the European Union Council, that is to say more precisely, who should become President of the European Council. The Council has not debated that. I will add the Presidency’s opinion that it has not been debated because it is not yet time to do so.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marian Harkin (ALDE). – I would like to thank the President-in-Office of the Council for the answer. I think what you said to me is that this is an ongoing process and there may be areas of clarification that need to be sorted out.

In the context of clarification, I would like to know what your view is on the production of an official consolidated text from the Council because I have written to a number of Heads of State and quite a number have replied to me – the Spanish Prime Minister, the Ministers for Europe in Germany and Bulgaria – with regard to the need for a consolidated text. In fact Parliament voted for it just three weeks ago and Commissioner Margot Wallström, in this very House, said that we need a consolidated text as soon as possible. I just wonder what your views on that are.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gay Mitchell (PPE-DE). – First of all can I say that, if the Council has difficulty in getting the consolidated text, the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin will gladly give them a copy in English.

Secondly, from the reply given by the President-in-Office to my question, I would like to ask him whether it is clear that there are no candidates, that there is no short list and no long list for the job of President of the European Council, that this is something that will be decided some time after the Lisbon Treaty is approved – if it is approved – and that this is in the distant future. Is that the situation?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) Firstly, the supplementary question from Mrs Harkin.

In any case, in the opinion of the Council, that is to say the Presidency, a consolidated text is needed for the Treaty of Lisbon. At another point in today’s debate I said that we were expecting it in the middle of April and that it should be published in the Official Journal of the European Union by the second half of May. Some may find that late. However, we have to be aware that it is very demanding, legal editing work. It is a complex text and, in addition, the official consolidated text has to be prepared in all 23 official languages of the European Union. If one takes all that into account, it will not be too long before we have an official, consolidated version of the text.

There are unofficial versions and I am grateful to Mr Mitchell for pointing this out. The unofficial versions remain unofficial and cannot be regarded as the official text. There are many of them, including one from the Dublin Institute. It is useful reading matter, but it cannot replace the official version, which will take a certain time to prepare.

In response to the second part of Mr Mitchell’s supplementary question, I can assert on behalf of the Presidency and the Council that at the moment there is no short or long list of possible or actual candidates. It does not exist. The Council has not debated it. We will probably have to debate it closer to the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. The first possible date would be 1 January 2009. I expect the debate on this question to start later in 2008. It will have to start at some point because it was foreseen that when the Lisbon Treaty was implemented, the European Union would also acquire a President of the European Council.

I repeat that, in the opinion of the Presidency at the moment, the time for such debates has not yet come, but we have to appreciate the fact that, out of a possible 27 ratifications, only five have so far been secured.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Richard Corbett (PSE). – It concerns the future President of the European Council. Does the Presidency agree that this is not, in fact, a presidency of the Union, it is a chairmanship of one of the institutions, each institution having its own president?

And, has the presidency had any discussions as to the nature of the job in detail, to make sure that the role does indeed not expand to be some sort of ‘President of the Union’ but remains confined to chairing and running the European Council meetings?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Reinhard Rack (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, my question relates to the compiled text, in other words, the consolidated version. I am grateful to the President-in-Office of the Council for elucidating the important difference between private and official texts. I would also welcome it if, in parallel to the publication in the Official Journal, a concerted campaign could perhaps be initiated via the Member States in order to give interested citizens access to the full text. We do not have to turn out vast quantities, but if citizens wish to see a copy of the text, they should be able to request it from the national governments.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Esko Seppänen (GUE/NGL). – (FI) Mr President, Mr Minister, last week in Ljubljana it came to my attention that the Slovenian parliament had ratified the Treaty without a consolidated version, which astonished me. The Members of Parliament could not have access to the text in the form in which it has now been distributed to them.

I would like to ask if, as far as you know, it was agreed by the Council of Ministers or at the summit that the consolidated text would be delayed for as long as possible. Was it by chance agreed there that no referendums would be held on the Constitution - the Treaty of Lisbon?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – President-in-Office, I might suggest that there could be a wish list among potential candidates – an unofficial one which we have not yet seen.

However, on the substantive issue, I am glad you are preparing; you are not predicting the outcome, but you are hoping, as I am, that it will be positive and that the Lisbon Treaty will be ratified.

There is a notion among the ‘no’ campaign in Ireland that this is a self-amending Treaty, which it is not, and I would like you to perhaps state very clearly to those of us in Ireland who are out there on the campaign trail that this Treaty and future changes to it will respect the ratification process of all Member States.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) I understood the first three questions, but the translation of the fourth was lost. I would like to ask Mrs McGuinness to repeat the question and I will listen to it in her language.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Perhaps I was too speedy. In Ireland, the ‘no’ campaign are propagating the mistruth that if we support this Treaty there will be no future referendums in Ireland on further treaties, should we need them. And, in the next 50 years, who knows what we will need to vote on?

I am very clearly of the view – as many in this House are – that voting ‘yes’ to Lisbon will do no such thing and that there will always be respect for the ratification process of Member States. I would like you, perhaps in your position, to confirm that.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) Thank you very much for kindly repeating your question, Mrs McGuinness. I understand it fully now, but first a response to Mr Corbett. When we say the President of the European Council, absolutely nothing else is meant but the President of the European Council. As a lawyer, I cannot agree that the President of the European Council could be a President of something else at the same time.

The European Council is becoming an institution. With the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon, it will become a new institution for the first time. It will have a President who will preside over this institution and no other institution mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty.

I agree with Mr Rack’s opinion that the consolidated text is in any case a useful aid in parliamentary decision-making and for informing citizens. However, as I said before, it does not change the fact that the only relevant text is the one prepared by a competent service of the general secretariat of the Council as an official consolidated text.

That brings me to Mr Seppänen’s question. It is true that the Slovenian Parliament has ratified the Lisbon Treaty without the official consolidated text, because it is not yet available. Those who were interested in the matter had access to an unofficial consolidated text in several languages.

I must say that the Government was very active in explaining the innovations brought by the Lisbon Treaty and, as shown by the result in the Slovenian Parliament, it was quite successful. However, this is our national problem and does not concern the Presidency so much; nevertheless, I felt I owed you an explanation.

Back to referendums. First let me ask you, Mr Seppänen, whether you asked how the Council, that is to say we, could prevent referendums?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Esko Seppänen (GUE/NGL). – (FI) I asked if a decision had been taken by the Council or at the summit that no referendums should be held – that it should be recommended to Member States that they do not hold a referendum. That was my question.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) Thank you for this additional explanation. There is no such decision and it is not possible to make one. The Council respects the rights of each Member State to make an independent and sovereign decision on the ratification process in accordance with its internal regulations, and neither the Council nor the Presidency interferes in the matter.

In response to Mrs McGuinness, as I have just said, the choice of the method of ratification of the new treaty is a sovereign right of each Member State, which should independently decide, in accordance with its legislation, whether it will have a referendum or ratify the new treaty in parliament. This fact will not be changed in any way by the new treaty.

Implementation of the Lisbon Treaty will leave this question in the exclusive sovereign competency of each Member State, including Ireland, and this will also apply to future treaties.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 3 by Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (H-0082/08)

Subject: Youth Pact

The Council has taken decisions in the context of the Youth Pact to enhance the employability of young Europeans and the scope for combining work and family life. Does the new Presidency intend to assess the results achieved so far and promote these objectives further?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) I would like to draw Mrs Panayotopoulos’ attention to the Council’s latest initiative relating to her question. On 14 February this year, the Council adopted a series of key reports on further implementation of the European Youth Pact and forwarded them to the spring session of the European Council, which will start tomorrow. The key reports are based on the Commission’s latest analysis of the national reform programmes and contain a progress assessment of the implementation of the European Youth Pact for 2007.

On the basis of this analysis, the Council established that, since the adoption of the European Youth Pact in 2005, unemployment has fallen in some Member States. At European Union level, however, unemployment is still high, at over 17%. That is why the following recommendations were formulated for further implementation of the pact, and the Council will receive them in the form of key reports this week.

Youth employment, cooperation in education and training and social integration of young people should continue to be the central tasks of economic and social strategies. Special attention should continue to be paid to young people with fewer opportunities, especially by means of more decisive guidance, multidisciplinary support and adapted measures.

In the future implementation of the Lisbon Strategy we should endeavour to develop the youth dimension. It is based on an intersectoral approach and a strengthened role for young people. The first recommendation calls on Member States to focus particularly on youth employment tasks. In that connection, the Commission is emphasising issues such as: transition from the education system to employment, uncertain labour relations, flexicurity and youth employability.

The Slovenian Presidency has devoted special attention to the problems and challenges of youth employment. I would like to mention the international conference entitled ‘Jobs for Youth – Prosperity for All’, which will take place next month in Slovenia during this Presidency.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, the text of the European Youth Pact also provides for measures for combining professional and family life. The Council has also decided on the establishment of the European Alliance for Families. Young people must have the opportunity to start a family. What measures does the Presidency intend to take in order to provide this opportunity?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) The practical realisation will rest with each Member State. We are anticipating that the European Council will adopt certain decisions on this matter at political level this week, including the European Alliance for Families. In short, we are expecting an additional impetus to the efforts in this area. How they will be applied is primarily a matter for each individual Member State.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 4 by Claude Moraes, which has been taken over by Glenis Willmott (H-0084/08)

Subject: Cooperation on homelessness at EU level

The Council may be aware of the Written Declaration 0111/2007 on ending street homelessness recently launched in the European Parliament. One aim of the Declaration will be to develop a European approach to end street homelessness, and for that purpose gather and share reliable statistical data which will be necessary to facilitate action.

What is the Council’s position with regard to Europe-wide cooperation concerning homelessness? In particular, would it consider the sharing of statistics at European level to be a positive move?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) The Council is aware of the European Parliament initiative calling for a pan-European alliance for the elimination of homelessness by 2015. The Council welcomes the initiative and is eagerly awaiting to see its achievements.

I would like to remind you that the issues of homelessness as part of a social security and social inclusion policy are dealt with under the Open Method of Coordination. The Social Protection Committee is responsible for this area. The Open Method of Coordination has reinforced awareness of the fact that homelessness presents a problem in all Member States. In preparing national action plans for social inclusion for 2006-2008, Member States designated homelessness as one of the primary strategic priority areas.

The 2007 joint report on social security and social inclusion dealt with the challenge posed by homelessness in relation to measures for active inclusion. To these measures we should add a number of other services including housing, health care and social services. The report also established that some Member States are developing a more structural approach to exclusion in housing and homelessness.

As regards the question on statistical data for homelessness in Europe, I should say that, despite all efforts by the European Observatory on Homelessness, the indicators in this area are still underdeveloped. Many Member States have not defined homelessness at all. Also, most Member States have no reliable data on the number of homeless people. Even where data exist, it is difficult to compare them because the methodology of counting and trend monitoring differs among individual Member States.

Due to a lack of comparable data on homelessness, the Social Protection Committee’s Indicators Sub-Group included in its working programme for 2008, among other plans, an analysis of the proportion of material poverty represented by housing, an analysis of the cost of housing as shown in the European study of income and living conditions, and further measures based on the study of the extent of homelessness in the European Union, which the Commission’s services published in January 2007.

In addition to that, the Social Protection Committee concluded that homelessness in 2009 will be one of the possible priority tasks within the framework of the targeted efforts to achieve social inclusion.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Glenis Willmott (PSE). – I was happy to see recently released UK Government figures that show that in my constituency, the East Midlands, new cases of homelessness recorded by local authorities have fallen by 25% over the past year. This is thanks to the Labour Government’s top priority of eliminating homelessness and a strong focus on equipping people with the skills and training needed to move away from the streets permanently. This is in stark contrast with the results achieved by the previous Conservative Government, under which the numbers of those homeless and sleeping rough actually increased.

Therefore, does the Council agree that this is an example of best practice, that it should be shared and consequently that it is necessary that a suitable EU-level platform is put in place to do this?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) Thank you for this information, but please understand that as a representative of the Council I am not at liberty to comment on the data or the situation for an individual Member State. What you said could be an example of good practice, but I cannot state that here as a representative of the Council.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 5 by Manuel Medina Ortega (H-0087/08)

Subject: Action to combat international crime and the EU Court of Justice

Will the Council report on the progress achieved and announce the immediate proposals for the establishment of a common asylum policy in the EU?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) In June 2007 the Commission published a green paper on a future common European asylum system. The Council is now awaiting the Commission’s proposals for the second phase of instruments, laws and measures aimed at establishing a common European asylum system. These instruments and laws will be adopted by Parliament and the Council under the codecision procedure.

For the timing of these proposals we should consult the Commission, which also has the exclusive legislative initiative in this area.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Manuel Medina Ortega (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, Mr Mehdi Kazemi, aged 19, has just lost the possibility of obtaining asylum in the Netherlands after his application was rejected in the United Kingdom. Mr Kazemi could be sent to Iran and executed for the crime of being a homosexual.

At present in the EU we do not have any rules on this and my question is whether the Council believes that it can speed up the processes or that we can wait, for example, until the European Court of Justice forces the Member States to recognise asylum as a fundamental human right in accordance with existing human rights case-law.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hubert Pirker (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President-in-Office of the Council, in relation to the development of a common asylum procedure, one objective is to expedite the decision-making process that determines whether people are granted refugee status or not. One thing that I have been calling for repeatedly is the compilation of a list of safe third countries in order to speed up decisions. Could you tell us what progress you have made in your discussions on compiling such a list?

My second point is this: we have often asked for information campaigns so that people know how asylum procedures work, what legal immigration means and what the consequences are of a rejected asylum application or illegal immigration.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) The answer to the supplementary question raised by Mr Medina Ortega is very clear. The Council is incapable of doing anything to force a Member State to behave in a particular way when deciding on the granting of asylum.

These are the obligations of the Member States under international law. However, there are going to be additional obligations when we take a new step towards a common European Union asylum policy, which I described earlier, that is to say towards establishing a common asylum system.

Mr Pirker, I cannot add to what I said earlier in the introduction. The intended schedule will have to be presented by the European Commission. I suggest that this question be addressed to the Commission as well.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − Ladies and gentlemen, let us continue. The following questions will not be answered because they were not deemed admissible:

- the first because it is similar to a question that was put in February;

- Nos 7 and 8 because they deal with issues relating to the political situation in Chad on which we had a debate just before this Question Time.

Question No 9 by Jim Higgins (H-0093/08)

Subject: Transport of liquids

Could the Council make a statement on the ongoing EU negotiations with Canada and the US regarding the transport of liquids through airports? Is the Council confident that any outstanding problems can be resolved within a short timeframe?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) The only response I can make to Mr Higgins is that I cannot answer his question because the answer lies within the competence of the European Commission. This subject comes under its competence and, sadly, I cannot give a meaningful answer.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jim Higgins (PPE-DE). (GA) Mr President, I understand that the President-in-Office of the Council is not able to give me a response. Clearly, this is becoming much too drawn out. Do the authorities and the governments of Canada and the United States not understand that we have a solution in the European Union? A solution that is practical, simple and effective.

I would like ask the Commission or the President-in-Office of the Council why Canada and the United States do not accept this solution? The root of this is in the 9/11 attacks on the United States. It is a security measure. And it is very difficult to understand why we cannot accept this solution everywhere in the world.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hubert Pirker (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, we are always calling for appropriate measures to be taken in respect of our response to, and especially prevention of, terrorism, which is why this particular measure was initiated.

However, is this instrument really still effective, or have the terrorists already found ways of sidestepping these controls?

What could be done to harmonise the controls? Although we have a single set of provisions, their practical implementation varies widely from one airport to another, and this creates problems and annoyance.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) I am going to attempt to answer some points raised in the supplementary questions. The limits on liquids, sprays, gels and similar articles for air passengers were introduced for a reason. They were in response to a threat which was seriously and clearly expressed, a threat to security in civil aviation.

We have been informed that experts in various fields are intensively searching for solutions and technologies that will make it easier to detect a real threat, and in that way ease the transport of liquids, sprays, gels and similar articles in civilian air passengers’ hand luggage.

Many debates on this topic are being conducted in many places, especially in the International Civil Aviation Authority. We are following those debates, but as yet there are no conclusions. If and when something happens, we expect the Commission to act appropriately.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − Ladies and gentlemen, we do not have much time, in fact only six minutes, as the Council has informed me that it will have to leave at 7.30 p.m. However, we have enough time to answer the next two questions.

President. − As they deal with the same subject, the following questions will be taken together:

Question No 10 by Mairead McGuinness (H-0095/08)

Subject: The EU perspective of the Western Balkans

Inevitably, the fate of the Western Balkans will be of particular interest to the current holder of the Council Presidency. Given recent developments in relation to the status of Kosovo, will the Council Presidency assume an active role in attempting to integrate further the countries of the Western Balkans into EU structures?

Question No 11 by Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (H-0106/08)

Subject: Development of relations between the EU and the Western Balkan countries

The Slovenian Presidency has indicated that one of its priorities is the development of relations between the EU and the Western Balkan countries. Can the Council set out the principal objectives regarding the development of future agreements between the EU and the Western Balkans?

Question No 12 by Dimitrios Papadimoulis (H-0119/08)

Subject: Role of the EU mission to Kosovo

The Prime Minister of Kosovo has recently stated that the declaration of independence is a matter of days away. The Russian Foreign Minister has linked the EU mission to Kosovo with a new UN Security Council resolution on the presence of the international community in Kosovo.

What is the mandate and the timetable for the EU’s mission to Kosovo? Is the Council expecting a new UN Security Council resolution to make any changes in relation to the presence of the international community in Kosovo?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) I would like to answer all three questions together, so the answer will be somewhat longer, but it is a particularly topical subject at this moment.

The Council is determined to continue supporting the European perspective of the Western Balkans, bringing it more within the grasp of the citizens of the region. Among other things it will speed up the start of dialogue with the countries of the region on the liberalisation of visa regulations.

At the session on Monday 10 March, the Council welcomed the inaugural session of the Regional Co-operation Council, which marked the official handing-over of the Stability Pact to this new Council. The establishment of this Council is evidence of great progress in regional cooperation in the fields of democracy, economics and security.

The Council has stressed the great importance of regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations and the need for renewed efforts on all sides to find, through a constructive approach to negotiations, acceptable bilateral solutions to unresolved questions on relations with neighbouring countries.

In its decisions of 18 February the Council confirmed its resolve to give total and effective support to the European perspective in the Western Balkans. It requested that the Commission use the instruments of the Community to stimulate economic and political development and offer the wider region concrete measures for progress in this direction.

Here I would like to mention a very important event: on 5 March the European Commission published a special communication about the Western Balkans. In it the Commission proposed a string of tangible measures for further deepening relations between the European Union and the countries of this region. This communication and the consolidation of the European perspective for the Western Balkan countries will be the main topic at the informal session of the European Union Foreign Ministers which is planned for the end of this month in Slovenia.

The Slovenian Presidency has given the Western Balkans special attention. The stability of this region is of crucial importance for the security and prosperity of the entire European Union. Among others, the following activities are possible in 2008: revision of the 2003 Thessaloniki agenda, conclusion of many stabilisation and association agreements, and strengthening of cooperation within the region in various fields.

In view of the lack of time, I will try and briefly present the main aims of the European Union Council concerning individual countries. Because Kosovo was mentioned in one of the questions, I will say a few words about it.

The Presidency still believes that what is needed is a long-term solution to the status of Kosovo within the general agenda of a European future for the Western Balkans. The stabilisation and association process is a strategic framework developed by the European Union for its policies towards the Western Balkans. The instruments of this framework also apply to Kosovo.

I would like to remind you again of the Council’s decisions of 18 February, when it confirmed its commitment to total and effective support for a European future for the Western Balkans. The Council called on the Commission to use the instruments of the Community to stimulate economic and political development and offer the wider region concrete measures for moving closer to this target.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I know time is short, but I think it is interesting that the landscape has changed since I tabled this question, and I welcome the fact that the President-in-Office has updated us with great detail about his particular and obvious concerns about the region. Could I just ask him, specifically in relation to the EU mission to Kosovo, which is unique and quite untested at this stage: can you assure us that we learn lessons from this intervention and will be ready to offer similar support to other countries in the region if and when we are invited to do so?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – (RO) Thank you for the specifications, but I would have liked to have had some additional information. We know that, as far back as July 2006, the treaty on energy was signed to attract investments in energy and I know that in 2007 a list of priority projects was adopted for energy infrastructure in the region and a memorandum on social issues was even signed.

We also know that the signing of a community treaty on transport with the countries in the region is contemplated in order to create a domestic market in the field of road, railway and inland waterway transport. A list of priority projects on transport was also established and I would have liked to have more details from the Council…

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) Regarding Mrs McGuinness’ first question: the European Union mission in Kosovo is part of the European Union’s common foreign and security policy, that is to say it is a CFSP ‘ISDP mission’. However, it is not the only mission to the Western Balkans. The ISDP mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the missions and it has a similar status, that is to say it is a European Union police mission. Similarly, there was the PROXIMA mission to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which has finished.

I would like to emphasise the importance of the Kosovo mission for which the decision was adopted. It is often stressed that the European Union is divided on the status of Kosovo. This division is indeed apparent, but people forget about the unity of the European Union in important issues such as, for example, the question of the European mission, for which agreement was reached and which we hope will be operational as scheduled.

Now to Mrs Ţicău’s question. We have already established regional cooperation within the framework of the energy declaration for south-east Europe. We are also contemplating other fields where, with concrete measures, we may be able to strengthen the real integration of the countries of the Western Balkans and re-enforce their connections with the European Union.

You mentioned transport. Yes, it is one of the areas we are studying, but there are others, such as cooperation in research, science and education. I would like especially to stress the importance of liberalising the visa requirements for these countries, which remains one of our targets. We hope it will soon be reached. Negotiations with most of the Western Balkan countries on a gradual liberalisation of the visa requirements have already started under the Slovenian Presidency.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE). – (SK) The way Europe sees the Balkan countries has a significant impact on, and great importance for, stability both in the Balkans and on a European and global scale.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence has planted the seeds of hatred between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, endangering their fragile relations. Considering that Slovenia is a part of the Balkans too, what does the presidency believe is a sustainable solution that can guarantee peace and stability in this region? Will it be possible without Serbia’s approval?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dimitrios Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL). – (EL) Mr President, President-in-Office of the Council, in your reply on Kosovo, you did not once mention ‘the UN’, or ‘international legality’! I ask you: can the European perspective on the western Balkans to be endorsed, in circumvention of the UN and in breach of international legality? Furthermore, since the Council welcomes, in its communication, the international presence in Kosovo invoked by UN Resolution 1244, may I ask whether we can pick and choose from an à la carte menu? Is it valid or not, or do you select only those points that suit you?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office. (SL) Thank you for these supplementary questions. Regarding Mrs Pleštinská’s question, I cannot and dare not predict, either personally or as a representative of the Council, a possible long-term solution for the status of Kosovo. It is a fact that the desirable solution would be an agreement between the parties involved. As we know, there were long negotiations on the subject, but they did not end in an agreement.

It would be equally desirable for the United Nations Security Council to take a position on this question but, as we know, this did not happen. That is why the European Union responded to Kosovo’s declaration of independence in the way it did, on 18 February, with decisions and resolutions by the General Affairs and External Relations Council. That is the context in which an agreement was reached within the European Union. As we know, this context allows Member States to make their own decisions on the development of relations with Kosovo.

In response to Mr Papadimoulis’ question, that is to say opinion, I would like to stress that there is no doubt that the European perspective for the Western Balkans also includes Kosovo. Kosovo is part of the region which had already been given a European perspective in Thessaloniki in 2003, and that has not changed.

This is also obvious from the European Commission’s previously mentioned communication published on 5 March this year, which contains a special section devoted to Kosovo.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − Questions which have not been answered for lack of time will be answered in writing (see Annex).

 
  
  

That concludes Question Time.

(The sitting was suspended at 7.40 p.m. and resumed at 9 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: LUIGI COCILOVO
Vice-President

 

16. Enhancing the quality of life of older people (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0027/2008) by Neena Gill, on behalf of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, on the proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on the participation by the Community in a research and development programme aimed at enhancing the quality of life of older people through the use of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), undertaken by several Member States [COM(2007)0329 - C6-0178/2007 - 2007/0116(COD)].

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I am very pleased and happy to replace my fellow Commissioner, Ms Viviane Reding, in introducing such a very important and very good subject.

The ageing of the population throughout Europe obviously poses significant challenges to our society and economy. Today, for every retired person there are still five people who pay taxes. By 2025 this will drop to three-to-one, and by 2050 to only two-to-one. The cost of care, especially care for the growing group of people over the age of 80, is rising rapidly. We are rightly concerned about ensuring a good quality of life as well as the financial sustainability of health and social care for the elderly.

At the same time, I stress that an ageing population is also a great opportunity and a promising market for new products and new services for healthy ageing and independent living. We are all convinced that we can and should mobilise information and communication technologies for ageing well in Europe. The ‘Ambient assisted living’ joint programme will help to tackle these challenges and exploit the opportunities. It is also an innovative cooperation of Member States in market-oriented research and development that merits European support.

The compromise amendments that you suggested have certainly helped to strengthen the European dimension of the initiative by clarifying the scope as well as the roles and commitments of the Member States. This will be helpful in ensuring the success of this important European endeavour for the benefit of us all.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Neena Gill, rapporteur. − Mr President, improving the quality of life of Europe’s growing elderly population, as we have heard, is one of the biggest challenges facing us in Europe.

The make-up of our society is changing, and we need to adapt, to ensure quality of life and independent living for the elderly, who are otherwise at risk of exclusion.

What we need to ensure is that this new society is an inclusive one. We need to guarantee that the growing number of elderly people are fully able to participate in society because, between 2010 and 2030, the number of EU citizens aged between 65 and 80 will rise by 40%.

This ageing population will have severe implications for a number of policy areas: social, employment, housing, education, training, health care and social support. Therefore we need a comprehensive, not a fragmented approach to ageing.

This report results from initiatives by Member States under Article 169, which is co-funded by the Commission to the tune of EUR 150 million over five years. This will assist the European industry and research institutes in the development of new, cutting-edge ICT services, products and solutions to enhance the quality of life for the older persons.

Today, technologies have been developed that can help solve loss of memory, vision, hearing and mobility. Substantive work has already begun, but often there is neither awareness nor widespread use. So this initiative, I hope, will be of real use and help solve societal problems.

I am really pleased to say that I have seen, first-hand, in many places, especially in my region, the West Midlands, how a traditional house can be adapted with the use of assistive technologies which will enable a safer and accessible home environment.

I am also proud that my region has been at the cutting edge of assistive technologies – not just with a view to the elderly, but also technologies have been developed to help people with disabilities.

So, AAL should prove to be a real boost to this sort of activity in three domains. Firstly, EU research will be centrally coordinated, will enable the development of feasible products, and will introduce these into the marketplace.

Our aim should be to become the pole of excellence in this field, and there should be exchange of knowledge and best practice across Europe.

This is only achievable if we have real commitment from the participating countries. Therefore, I am pleased that the Council has agreed to EUR 0.2 million as a minimum contribution for each participating country, along with a single common evaluation mechanism and eligibility criteria, in the hope that this will increase coordination, transparency and credibility of the programme.

Secondly, it will benefit EU industry, which has a tremendous potential in this area. So I call upon the AAL Association to develop effective business models for these ICT products and services, which are the key to lower prices and getting these products onto the market.

They also need to ensure that SMEs can participate and have fair access to research and funding opportunities. However, to be successful it is essential that the programme looks at developing EU-wide standards and interoperability in order to become a world leader in this field of assistive technologies. There is an urgent need to remove technical and regulatory barriers which hamper the development of this area. Let us not forget that the rest of the world, like the US, Japan and even China, are facing similar demographic challenges. Therefore, it is up to us to develop a global competitive edge.

AAL is not just about improving independent living but can also contribute to achieving the goals of the Lisbon Strategy. But, to do this, we need joined-up thinking and joined-up action with other programmes – on job creation and on economic growth – in this sector.

Thirdly, whilst the technology can improve the quality of life for the elderly, this only holds if a few major issues are addressed: making prices affordable so they are accessible to all, user-friendliness of the new technology (and making sure the elderly and their carers have the training to understand it), and, because we may be living in an information society, but it is not yet an inclusive society – a large proportion of the elderly do face exclusion. Therefore we need to make the internet more accessible and make training available, and allow elderly people both to stay socially connected and to perform their daily activities which can be facilitated, such as shopping, paying bills, making appointments. But the availability of this should not be due to a geographical divide in Europe. I do not want to see a two-speed Europe in relation to Europe’s demographic challenge.

This is only a start. We have a lot more to do, and I hope this programme will set a precedent for further activities and initiatives from the Commission and the Council.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. (PL) Mr President, the ageing of Europe’s population represents a challenge for the whole of European society. Average life expectancy is currently 80 years, and a 40% increase in people of retirement age is expected by 2030.

The European Union should adopt a wide-ranging approach to this challenge, because demographic tendencies affect many areas of politics, including employment, housing, education, social assistance and health care. The overall aim of the research and development programme in question is to improve the quality of life of older people and to strengthen Europe’s industrial base. It is intended to achieve this by implementing ICT, which will help older persons to improve their quality of life, continue to enjoy good health and remain active at work and in society.

The skills and experience acquired by older persons represent a major asset, especially in a knowledge-based society. It is also important to emphasise that an ageing society contains a higher percentage of women than men due to the longer life expectancy of the former. The gender element must therefore be taken into account when devising and evaluating the programme. Finally, I should like to thank Mrs Gill, the rapporteur, for a very well prepared report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lambert van Nistelrooij, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (NL) It is good that for once today we are talking about the demographic change in Europe in a different way, not as something that only costs money and that produces people who then need to be cared for; it so happens that it also presents a very important opportunity. I myself will happily talk about the silver economy: if you look closely at the programme, you will see there a matter concerning the quality of life, so what is Europe’s dilemma?

On the one hand, we have very good fundamental knowledge, but innovations in the market take too long. We have had Internet and broadband for a long time, and now people with limited mobility have proper access to services by means of the Internet too. That can change things and there is an opportunity here.

On the one hand, I am pleased that in the Seventh Framework Programme half a billion euro has been set aside for basic research, and indeed the European Community will recover that half billion on the part of the Member States and businesses. It is good that this knowledge is being rolled out as it provides a bridge to the market.

As Mrs Gill has already said, it is very important that we here in Europe turn the distorted, fragmented market around and introduce better standards to increase inclusion. In America or China, for example, this problem does not exist. We have very different financial systems. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce both the technology and consultation with partners at national level. For this reason it would be good to unite the Member States and always involve three countries in each project. This is sometimes difficult but I think that it is necessary in order to use the knowledge quickly.

Some points in the programme need to be assessed and I am very curious about the technologies that exist, and whether the ICT applications can be used effectively. I believe and I hope that the users will play a large role in this programme; I thank the rapporteur for the enormous effort she has put into this issue and in particular for the content of her report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău, on behalf of the PSE group. – (RO) Thanks to a lack of policies to promote an increase in the birth rate and certain facilities for child raising and care, that part of the population aged over 65 years will increase from 20% to 28% by 2025.

Senior citizens have special needs and society must undergo a change in order to satisfy such needs. We are in need of adapted housing, development of healthcare and attendance services for the elderly. In this context, the ICT’s role is increasingly important. Digital television, mobile phones, computers and even internet are already used by some of the elderly. Many senior citizens communicate with their children in foreign countries by means of the internet and webcams, irrespective of whether they are in rural or in urban areas.

However, the number of European citizens aged over 65 that use the internet is only 10%. Please note that more than 21% of European citizens aged over 50 have serious hearing, visual or dexterity disabilities which make it difficult for them to use standard ICT equipment.

In June 2007 the Commission appealed to the Member States and to the field-related industry to support the implementation of the action plan “Integration of the elderly into the Information Society”. In this context, the programme on assistance for autonomy at home, to be developed within the 7th Framework Research Programme, will have a budget of 150 million Euro from the community budget and the Member States will spend at least 150 million Euro in the period 2008-2013, meaning the participating Member States, obviously.

The goals of this programme are: promotion of the development of innovating products, services and systems based on ICT for the elderly, creation of a critical mass of research, specific development and innovation at European level in the field of technologies and services for the elderly in the Information Society, improvement of the conditions on research result utilisation by undertakings.

Any Member State can take part in this programme. Within two years from the start of the programme, the Commission will draft an intermediary report and in 2013 it will draft a final assessment thereof. I believe that the elderly deserve a chance, we have this duty! Congratulations to the rapporteur.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, I had a visitors' group here again today. It will be a familiar situation to many of my colleagues. We have visitors' groups, some large, some small, and the largest groups are from the silver generation. That was the case with the group today. There were 60 people, extremely interested, really engaged, very active, and this is increasingly the case. This is surely the challenge for Europe.

Demographic change is often depicted as a threat. The figures speak for themselves. Between 2010 and 2030 the number of EU citizens aged between 65 and 80 is expected to rise by 40%. However, like Mr van Nistelrooij, I do not see this as a threat. I think it is a major opportunity for Europeans to show that we are the region of the world that is most committed to a high quality of life at every stage in people's lives and for every age group. We need to show more concern for the elderly, and we must ensure that we do so as the people of Europe, the region of the world that protects life.

I would like to congratulate the Commission on this proposal. This Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) programme links this major trend, namely demographic change – which is more pronounced in Europe than in other regions – with our strengths in research and innovation. We are strongly committed to ICT technologies and AAL brings these two trends together.

It is quite clear, ladies and gentlemen, that we have no direct competence, as the European Union, for standards relating to older people, building of houses, etc. However, using these pilot programmes, we can promote best practice and we can bring together what is already being done best by some Member States and give it a European seal of quality so that it genuinely serves as a model for others. Ladies and gentlemen, with this programme the Commission is helping to close the so-called digital divide between generations within our society.

I would like to thank Neena Gill, the rapporteur, for having conveyed this message extremely clearly, much more than other rapporteurs, I must say. I would like to express my sincere thanks to her. She also defended Parliament's position very courageously in the trialogue and ensured that our arguments were conveyed effectively. There is no need for us to hide ourselves away. As a representative of this House, let me say that we wish the AAL programme the greatest success. Our very good wishes go with it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Guntars Krasts, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (LV) Thank you, Mr President. Demographic, economic and social factors in Europe demand solutions that will turn the professional and cultural experience of older people to good account, ensuring that their living conditions are of as high a quality as possible and minimising the expenditure arising from this demographic trend.

The programme put forward by the Commission is a response to the need and, in parts, also to the quest for ways to advance technological progress in this sector. In fact, the digital divide – namely, barriers to the use of information and communication technologies, at times even very trivial ones – excludes a significant section of the older population from an active socio-economic life and restricts their opportunities to use the new technology services and assistance provided.

While I support the Commission proposal in every respect, it has to be acknowledged that new development of information and communication technologies in segments where there is commercial demand is taking place at intoxicating speeds. Similarly, while also agreeing with the Commission’s argument that the purchasing power of older people is increasing, we must, however, acknowledge that significant differences remain in income levels between Member States. Significant regional differences also remain in the opportunities available to those in the older age group to use information and communication technologies within different countries.

I would like to stress that the achievements of the Commission’s proposals will consist not only in the existence of the technologies themselves, but also in opportunities to access them and opportunities and incentives for older people to learn, in those parts of Europe where this is of particular importance in reducing disparities in income levels and regional disparities. The most difficult task, however, will be to overcome the digital divide in information content. On this point, where the digital divide between small and large nations and between small and large economies remains, overcoming it between generations is the most economically difficult task.

Mr President, although the Ministerial Declaration on e-inclusion, which served as a basis for the document under discussion today, was adopted in 2006 in Latvia’s capital, Riga, Latvia has not joined the programme. In this connection I have a question, which the rapporteur also referred to, concerning the extent to which it is in the interests of the states involved in the programme for other Member States to be covered by the funding of the Seventh Framework Programme, when this funding remains unchanged.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kathy Sinnott, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. Mr President, it is a funny old world. On the one hand, in a health report we are trying to figure out how to prise our children from the computers and make them go outside and run around to play and, on the other hand, we are trying to coax our elderly to sit at the computer and use it.

But, seriously, computers have a great deal to offer elderly people, especially for rural dwellers or those whose health tends to isolate them. But, for old people to be able to join the IT community, technology must be first of all easy to use, affordable, accessible to all and low maintenance. With an increasing number of old people in Europe, developing elderly-friendly technologies can improve their quality of life and help them to live independently for longer. Developing computers for the elderly is certainly a great business idea. While they may lack some technical skills, they have plenty of time to use computers and a desire to keep in touch with others. They are a market waiting to happen.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Desislav Chukolov (NI). – (BG) Dear colleagues, My country Bulgaria is regrettably among the leading nations in terms of the ageing of the population in Europe.

After the end of the cold war, young people from my country, enticed by the promises of good life in the West, rushed in crowds to do dish-washing and only their old parents stayed back home. Your idea to increase the lifespan of senior citizens is great. Who would be against it?

But before you think of using new information and communication technologies, I implore you to grasp the fact that Bulgarian pensioners live on pensions equal to EUR 50 a month. This is what the social government of the Bulgarian Socialist Party allocates for them. This is a fact of life.

I address the representatives of PES in this hall: ladies and gentlemen internationalists, are you aware of what EUR 50 a month mean to a pensioner who has worked honestly all his or her life? Are you aware of the fact that these EUR 50 are meant to make you survive and buy food at prices commensurate to the European ones? Are you aware of the fact that Bulgarian pensioners switch off their telephones because they cannot afford to pay the predatory prices of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company that has been privatized criminally?

It is a mockery to suggest ways to improve information services to these people. Think of how to enhance their financial independence first. For most pensioners in Bulgaria are not of gypsy origin and therefore they do not rely on free lunch.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ivo Belet (PPE-DE). – (NL) It is a good programme but I nevertheless have a few objections.

The first relates to the budget, of course: 150 million euro is nowhere near enough – and this has already been stated here – for a sector that you yourself said is going to become one of the booming sectors of the future. The speedy implementation of these tools is crucial for the wellbeing of the elderly, but is also crucial for the national economy, for the national budget, and it has great economic prospects. Mr van Nistelrooij has already said the same: hence the call for this investment and incentives on Europe’s part to expand it considerably over the coming years, possibly even by the mid-year budget evaluation.

My second comment – and I completely agree with the rapporteur’s observations – is that there must be no dichotomy, no divide, as Mr Chatzimarkakis has already said, between elderly people who have been trained and are able to use these new technologies, and others for whom this has not been possible and who simply do not have the resources to install them at home. This would very much contradict the main goal of the programme, which is to enable as many old people as possible to continue living at home for as long as possible. That is much cheaper than sending them to hospital or to nursing homes, and of course it is also best for their wellbeing. At the end of the day, that is what this is all about.

Finally, it is crucial that all these innovative tools continue to be affordable for all old people, regardless of their financial situation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Justas Vincas Paleckis (PSE). – (LT) I welcome the Commission’s initiative and appreciate Mrs Gill’s report, which will undoubtedly be very beneficial considering the issues affecting older people. Europe’s growing elderly population poses problems and significant challenges. Today, new assisting technologies have been developed that can ensure good quality of life for the elderly and enable them, depending on their wishes and abilities, to take an active part in life. EU Member States should therefore prepare themselves for the imminent revolution in providing societal and assistive services.

Producers of modern information and communication technologies have noticed an increased demand for their products. New assistive technologies can help solve vision, hearing, mobility and other problems, enabling older people to continue to feel – and indeed be – useful to society. The fact that EU Member States plan by 2013 to invest more than EUR 1 billion in the development of new technologies addressing the needs of the elderly is laudable.

ICT can and will no doubt enhance quality of life and self-respect among the elderly. However, a question arises: will this benefit everyone, or just a handful of ‘chosen’ ones?

I do appreciate the rapporteur’s concern regarding the possibility that only a small number of older people, who already happen to be enjoying a high quality of life, will benefit from ICT innovations. Some EU countries boast of six-star, hotel-style residences for the elderly. Not far from these, however, one can see poverty-ridden old people’s homes, the inhabitants of which struggle to survive. No innovations, assistive technologies or any modern equipment have ever been accessible to people in the latter institutions. This situation must change without delay.

I welcome the view expressed in the report that ICT products for the elderly should be affordable and user-friendly. The EU is a leader in many areas. To lead in the area discussed is both necessary and honourable.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). – (LT) Today, every fifth EU citizen is over 60, with a life expectancy of more than 80 years. However, the quality of life of Europe’s growing elderly population is not sufficiently high. For example, every fourth older person in my country, Lithuania, describes their state of health as poor, with the rate of participation in society being just 57%. Enhancing the quality of life of the aging population should be one of the European Union’s priorities.

The Commission’s initiative to mobilise information and communication technologies is a very important step towards helping to solve the problems of loss of memory, vision, hearing and mobility in the elderly. Nevertheless, the Commission has failed to fully address the issue of fair access to information and communication technologies.

One of the major issues connected with fair access to information and communication technologies is making them affordable. Older people’s main income is their pension, which is low, especially in the new accession states. It is of great importance that products based on new information and communication technologies are affordable to all EU citizens.

Another major element of accessibility is the user-friendliness of new technologies. Just 18% of the EU population aged 65-74 use the Internet, compared with 60% overall. We must therefore ensure that products based on new information and communication technologies are user-friendly.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Sylwester Chruszcz (NI). – (PL) Mr President, the phenomenon of an ageing society in European countries is a fact and represents a fundamental challenge for society. We should bear demographic tendencies in mind in relation to actions at European level, and consider the social and economic implications of the former. The number of persons aged between 65 and 80 will rise by 40% during the years 2010-2030.

Priority should be given to providing a dignified life and all possible comforts to those persons, together with access to all essential services. Ageing of the population does of course put pressure on the provision of health services and social care within the scope of financial possibilities, and also on the availability of health service and social care staff. In the context of the situation under discussion, I would draw attention to the dangerous phenomenon of marginalisation and isolation of the elderly.

The attempts to do away with sick and elderly people by way of legal euthanasia represent a very serious danger to contemporary Europe. I am distressed by the fact that despite being involved in protecting fundamental human rights, the European Union and its Parliament have remained silent on the matter.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ljudmila Novak (PPE-DE). – (SL) There is nothing more destructive and humiliating than a feeling of exclusion, insignificance and impotence. That is why I support the European Commission’s proposal for the Community to take part in the joint programme to help and include older people and improve their quality of life using information and communication technologies.

That is an additional piece in the mosaic of the Lisbon Strategy for building an information-based, digitally literate and economically more competitive Europe. In order really to improve the inclusion and literacy of older people, activities must be appropriately adapted and really accessible to them. These activities must be understandable, simple to use and learn, and affordable. They must capture the ageing population and people with disabilities in towns and in the country; otherwise there is a danger that the final result will be exclusion instead of inclusion.

With the widespread use of information and communication technologies, the older generation will also ultimately benefit from the innovations of modern times. Their quality life will improve because they will be more independent, mobile, active and included in society and economic life.

Adapted equipment, aids and numerous modern electronic systems make it possible to manage living space. At the same time they allow it to be controlled, ensuring that users have greater security and feel better about their lives. Such equipment allows people with disabilities and older people to communicate with the outside world and to enjoy remote care, work and entertainment.

We all want to reach a ripe old age, but not to be lonely and at the margins of society. That is why we are thinking of our future now and are taking new steps towards it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Roberta Alma Anastase (PPE-DE). – (RO) According to statistical data, the number of senior citizens in Europe will increase by 40% between 2010 and 2030. This phenomenon raises challenges, but also opportunities for public policies and the European future. A truly prosperous and competitive Europe should find the correct response to such challenges and to full use of the potential of the new demographic trends.

Elderly European citizens must benefit from quality services and conditions, and the experience accumulated by them should be used in the ongoing development of society. As the European Union intends to become an information-based economy and society, information technologies represent an innovative answer to this situation and the involvement of the European community in the relevant programmes is more than necessary.

I would like to point out two important aspects related to the use of new technologies to improve the standard of living of the elderly. First of all, European citizens should be trained and informed about the new technological possibilities offered. The elderly, especially in the new Member States, are not at all or partially familiar with this field and the losses resulting for society as a whole are plain to see. Consequently, the success of the decision discussed today largely depends on the European potential to mobilise in terms of the education of and provision of information to these persons. Secondly, special attention should be paid to women, as they account for a higher age bracket than men due to the increased life expectation. This aspect must be taken into account in the scientific research on the ageing process, as well as in the concrete implementation of public policies.

Finally, I want to reiterate the importance of focusing on the situation in the new Member States, in which the elderly are in a less favourable situation. The lower standard of living, but also lack of knowledge in using the new technologies, transforms this category in a priority target for future efforts at European level.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE).(SK) The ‘Forum to Help the Aged’, the ‘Senior Citizens’ Parliament’ and the magazine ‘Forum for Senior Citizens’ published in Slovakia with the support of the Commission are activities with which I had the opportunity to acquaint myself at meetings with senior citizens since this is how my calendar year traditionally begins. These activities have convinced me that old people want to be active and are very quick to learn. Mobile phones for example are not the great unknown for them any more. They have become their important companions instead.

Unfortunately very few resources are dedicated to the computer literacy of senior citizens and that is why I welcome the report by Mrs Neena Gill, which sets out an important message of the European Parliament as regards enhancing the quality of life of elderly or disabled people.

The use of new Information and Communication Technologies can be an effective instrument in ensuring that this category of European citizens, who are a source of wisdom, experience, traditions and skills will not be banished from society. It is important, however, to provide equal access to Information and Communication Technologies for all old people in the European Union.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zuzana Roithová (PPE-DE). – (CS) Mr President, I welcome the initiative of the 13 Member States that have developed a assisted living joint research programme for older citizens so that their generation can also make full use of information technologies. There is no doubt that this will make communication easier for them and will allow them to stay in work for longer. Therefore, I give my full support to the efforts to make the Ambient Assisted Living programme part of our decision tomorrow, to make it a joint programme of the European Union. I believe that by doing so we will be able to double the funds, to a total of EUR 600 million. In my opinion, our request for 20% cofinancing from domestic sources gives the Member States enough motivation to address these tasks. We should give the green light to this programme, which will allow for the effective development of innovative products and specific services, using Information and Communication Technologies as a tool to ensure that one’s old age is dignified. The programme also presents an opportunity for small and medium-sized enterprises and fully complies with the Lisbon Strategy objectives and our values.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, we should welcome the proposed participation by the Union in a joint research and development programme aimed at enhancing the quality of life of older persons.

New types of ICT can make life easier for persons of an advanced age, and help them to remain active at work and in their private lives. We should bear in mind that the number of elderly persons is increasing as a consequence of better living conditions.

In developing the detailed operating principles for this programme, we should bear in mind, however, that the assets and living conditions of older persons vary across the Member States. There are significant differences in the standard of living. Consequently, there are different needs in terms of services and different levels of preparation for active life, especially in the case of people in rural areas. New technologies, new opportunities for Internet working, and using new technology to one’s advantage can help older people to stay in the labour market. All this can also enable people to grow old comfortably. The problem is particularly significant in relation to the ageing of the population of Europe.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Monica Maria Iacob-Ridzi (PPE-DE). – (RO) The exclusion of senior citizens from the advantages of information technologies is problematic, especially as the number of those members of the European population between 65 and 80 years of age will soon reach 40%.

Thus, the joint research and development programme that the European Union will join, is welcomed in the context of improving the life of these people. However, I would like to point out the fact that Community financial involvement in this project is limited. The Community contribution amounts to a maximum of 150 million euro, given that it comes from the budget for the research and development framework programme with a total of more than 50 billion euro. Furthermore, the Community contribution cannot exceed 50% of the public funds used in the project, an atypically low percentage for such an important project.

Apart from the concrete advantages offered to the elderly by the IT solutions identified by this programme, the participation of the Union in the project is a good opportunity to contribute to the Europeans’ quality of life and, for this reason, the Community financial contribution should go beyond the national amounts of money allotted to this type of research.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, speaking on behalf of Ms Viviane Reding, I would like to express appreciation for the very constructive approach taken by the European Parliament and in particular the rapporteur Ms Gill during the negotiation process on the ‘Ambient assisted living’ (AAL) proposal. I am not responsible for this portfolio and for me the debate was certainly not only interesting but very educational. I assure you that I will convey not only the congratulations but also the concerns and the proposals to my colleague Viviane Reding.

I understood that one of the key issues is the use of ICT by the silver generation and I do agree with that. It certainly requires both knowledge and financial resources. Training for the elderly, particularly those who live in rural areas, is certainly important but it is properly addressed by the ‘Ageing well’ action programme. Affordability is another important issue and AAL will address that. As far as other countries who would like to join are concerned, it is certainly possible and it was for that reason that you proposed a relatively low threshold.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that the Commission welcomes and supports the compromise amendments proposed by the rapporteur, which will allow an agreement to be reached at first reading. Thanks to your commitment, it will be possible to launch this important initiative during the spring. Your continued support will also be essential during the implementation of the initiative. I would like to stress that taking up this challenge is not only a moral obligation but also an economic opportunity, a view expressed by many of the speakers. It is for the future well-being of our elderly citizens and also for our future competitiveness.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Neena Gill, rapporteur. − Mr President, I should like to thank all the colleagues for their comments and contributions.

I was asked by Mr Krasts whether I was happy for other countries also to participate in the initiative. The intention is that this programme is open to as many members as possible and it can even go beyond the EU Member States – as it does already.

The issue is about funding and many have raised this. The problem is that the funding appears to be capped at EUR 150 million. What we need to look at is either how that could be reviewed in future, if there is a lot of interest in this programme, or whether it could be addressed through other initiatives under the Framework 7 programmes.

I have heard it said today that, along with climate change, ageing is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. It is important that the Commission continue to address this, not just through individual programmes such as this, which are very important, but across other areas and – as I would like to reiterate – that it should have joined-up thinking in this.

I think the Commission also needs to be vigilant because some Member States, it is quite clear, are very far ahead while others are not. There is an urgency to ensure that there is no huge disparity between Member States after this programme is completed.

I would like to take a couple of key points that colleagues have mentioned, especially my two shadow rapporteurs. Mr van Nistelrooij made the point that it takes too long for products to reach the market and, if we are really going to make a difference with this programme, it is essential that this particular issue is addressed. And, as Mr Chatzimarkakis said: we come across as the part of the world that is most committed to quality of life, whatever a person’s age. I think it is important that our words are actually backed by action.

I would also like to thank Ms Geringer de Oedenberg, the draftswoman of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, and all the other people from the secretariat, the PSE Group secretariat and my office for their contributions, and the Commission and Council, both the Portuguese and Slovenian Presidencies.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 13 March 2008.

 

17. Taxation of unleaded petrol and gas oil (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0030/2008) by Olle Schmidt, on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, on the proposal for a Council Directive amending Directive 2003/96/EC as regards the adjustment of special tax arrangements for gas oil used as motor fuel for commercial purposes and the coordination of taxation of unleaded petrol and gas oil used as motor fuel [COM(2007)0052 - C6-0109/2007 - 2007/0023(CNS)].

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I very much appreciate the support of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs to the Commission proposal and in particular the efforts of the rapporteur, Mr Schmidt, to find a compromise.

As you know, the Commission proposal was presented in March 2007. Our objective was to raise and approximate the minimum levels of excise duty on diesel and unleaded petrol in order to maintain the real value of the minima, and to approximate the national rates in order to significantly reduce what is known as ‘fuel tourism’.

The reduction of fuel tourism would not only ensure the proper functioning of the internal market for the hauliers, but would reduce the extra kilometres and consequently the extra greenhouse gas emissions, which are detrimental to the environment.

I should stress that, during the Council discussions, a large number of Member States have underlined the positive effect of the Commission proposal on the environment, particularly on climate change and global warming and the proper functioning of the internal market.

As regards Mr Schmidt’s report, I appreciate very much the positive attitude to the Commission proposal taken in the report and the efforts made by the rapporteur to find a compromise position acceptable to all. However, the Commission cannot accept most of the amendments suggested in the report. Let me elaborate on it.

The Commission is opposed to any suggestion that would undermine finding a long-term solution to the problem of fuel tourism – which is detrimental to the environment – and to the distortions of competition in the internal market.

As regards the transitional periods suggested in our proposal, this approach is based on the principle of equal treatment of the old and new Member States and is, therefore, well-balanced in our view. The Commission, however, recognises that this is a political issue which will have to be discussed further in Council.

I would also like to explain that the proposal takes into account the competitiveness aspect of the EU through the suggested modest rate increases. They simply maintain the real value of the minimum levels of taxation by keeping up with expected inflation until 2017. The Commission considers that its own proposal takes all relevant factors into account. It does not consider it appropriate to endorse a less ambitious plan or a more far-reaching one to increase minimum levels of taxation as suggested in Amendments 18 and 25.

As regards Amendments 4 and 10 introducing a new definition of commercial diesel for motor vehicles not less than 3.5 t, I would like to clarify that the suggestion was not included in the original proposal. However, it is one of the main points of discussions in the Council where the Commission will follow the debate, bearing in mind the opinion expressed by the Parliament.

The Commission can accept in principle Amendments 7 and 27 supporting the objective of reducing CO2 emissions. However, it should be remembered that according to the principle of subsidiarity, it is a matter for each Member State to decide the way in which they wish to distribute their tax revenue.

In conclusion, I sincerely hope that Parliament can deliver a supportive opinion on the Commission proposal sending a positive signal to the Council to give a response to the concerns of Member States having problems with fuel tourism and, at the same time, achieving environmental objectives.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Olle Schmidt, rapporteur. − (SV) Mr President, Commissioner, the fact that taxes at EU level are a sensitive subject is demonstrated by the work on this report. I thought that the broad consensus on the need to do something radical in order to cope with the demands of climate change would make it easier to gain sympathy for some really tough proposals. That was not how things turned out.

Of course I can understand Mrs Rühle’s criticism of the level of ambition, but at the same time the work in our Parliament focuses on reaching reasonable compromises – something the Commissioner also mentioned – which can be implemented throughout our Union. Here I yielded to arguments regarding both the scale of the tax increases and the period of implementation.

Excellent cooperation from my colleagues, Mr Becsey and Mr Rosati, led me to realise that, if we were to get a report through at all, I had to adjust the level without the purpose of my original proposals being entirely frustrated. The Commission’s proposal was rejected in its entirety. I did not gain everything, but nor did I lose everything. Navigating between the rocks of Luxembourg and the Greens was not an altogether simple matter.

Emissions from transport are increasing substantially. We must do something about that. The fact that the EU Member States are competing with different levels of tax on diesel is therefore neither reasonable nor right, as the Commissioner correctly indicates. No one can think that it is good for the internal market that giant lorries should make long detours in order to fill up with cheap diesel in places such as Luxembourg. This so-called fuel tourism is not only bad for the environment, it distorts competition as well. Besides, it leads to losses of tax revenue. Moreover, there is no reason to have separate taxes on unleaded petrol and diesel.

So a compromise was reached here, which got more or less unanimous support in the committee. The minimum taxes on diesel are raised more slowly than proposed by the Commission, from 302 euros per 1 000 litres at present to the same level as the tax on unleaded petrol, 359 euros per 1 000 litres, by 2015. The Commission wanted to see an increase already in 2012.

Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania would be given until 1 January 2016 to introduce the higher minimum tax. The Commission wants to raise the minimum tax to 380 euros per 1 000 litres by 2014. In order to avoid further distortion of competition, the committee considers that those countries which have tax rates of over 400 euros per 1 000 litres on diesel and 500 euros per 1 000 litres on unleaded petrol should not raise their tax rates on these fuels before 2015.

Mr President, Commissioner, clearly this is a very sensitive question, in particular having regard to subsidiarity. Nevertheless it is a possible way forward towards increased convergence of tax levels. At the same time, we know that inevitable environmental demands will exert an influence on future assessments of the use of financial controls.

To those who do not think I have been sufficiently tough in my demands and that I have chipped away at the level of ambition I will say: in substance, I am with you. We should have agreed on higher levels and shorter implementation periods, as the Commission and the Commissioner have said, but the EU today is not the same EU as it was only five years ago – happily, I would add.

The economic preconditions for harmonising taxes are not the same as they were. If we are to tackle cross-border emissions, we must find reasonable compromises with which everyone can live. We must all realise that.

Besides, I would add that many of the old Member States merit criticism since they have not followed decisions on tax increases taken previously. Purchasing power and inflation considerations have also been taken into account in the committee’s conclusions.

The price of oil is currently hitting new records. I last heard on the news that it was close to 110 dollars a barrel.

Now there is broad agreement on gradual tax convergence which I also hope the Commissioner sees – at least in the committee – and I hope to get the support of my colleagues in the House tomorrow, broad support so that we can get a report that can serve as a basis for further work.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zsolt László Becsey, on behalf of the PPE-DE group. (HU) Thank you, Mr President. I congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Schmidt, on his excellent work. I believe today represents a breakthrough, as we have managed to hammer out a common parliamentary position on a broad consensual basis. I think it is important to preserve here in plenary the common voice we found in our committee. It is a success because we managed to set a minimum and maximum rate of excise duty to meet anti-inflationary objectives but ignored the idea of abolishing regulation in its entirety. It is better to have an opinion than not to provide one at all, which would leave only the Commission proposal on the table. It is a success because everyone is sacrificing something. Countries with high rates of taxation are ready to freeze their current high rates in the interests of convergence, while low-rate countries are willing to accept some increase relative to the legislation currently in force in relation to diesel.

The biggest sacrifice in this regard is being made by the newly acceded Baltic and Balkan states, as prices and incomes in these countries are lower and they have taken on a huge challenge in terms of inflation and competitiveness, and also in the social sphere, particularly in the run-up to introducing the euro. It is a success because it would halt Parliament’s request show, its ‘cherry-picking’. By the end of 2015 everyone would fall within the proposed band, and there would no longer be a whole series of inexplicable individual exceptions. This will enable us to reinforce the gravitas of European legislation. I think discipline is important, and we therefore ask the Commission to provide an interim report on compliance in 2010, to check whether the adjusters are actually adjusting or merely dissembling. It is a success because the Council will see that there is a way to achieve the desired convergence, while the Commission will grasp Parliament’s philosophy, namely minimum and maximum rates, with the key point being to reduce rather than induce inflation. It can reflect on this in future, too, when putting forward the scheduled Commission proposal on excise duties. Thank you for your attention, Mr President.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dariusz Rosati, on behalf of the PSE Group. (PL) Mr President, the Commission’s proposal on taxation of unleaded petrol and diesel oil is aimed at limiting the excessive use of fuel in transport and thus reducing environmental pollution.

The Commission also hopes that its proposal will assist in reducing the differences in the excise duty rates imposed by individual Member States, thus contributing to creating more equal conditions for competition on the single market. In general, these aims are desirable and merit support. At the same time, however, the Commission’s proposal contains solutions that may have negative implications for the economies of the Member States. The former include: additional increases in the cost of fuel and increased inflation, higher costs and a reduction in the competitiveness of European enterprises, and a reduction of the purchasing power of households. These implications may be particularly noticeable when oil prices on the world markets are exceptionally high, as is the case at present. In addition, the Commission’s proposals are such that the main burden of adjustment to the new rates would have to be borne by the least developed Member States of the Union, which is a matter of great concern: hence the amendments proposed in Mr Schmidt’s report, which are aimed at minimising such negative implications, whilst not undermining the main aims of the Commission’s proposals.

In the framework of the compromise reached between the main groups, we call for the introduction of three main changes to the Commission’s initial draft. Firstly, we propose reducing the target minimum rate of excise duty on fuel from EUR 380 per 1 000 litres to EUR 359 per 1 000 litres. Secondly, we propose a two-year extension of the transitional period for introduction of the new rates in the new Member States, taking it to 2016. Thirdly, we propose imposing a requirement whereby the Member States that currently impose the highest excise duty rates on fuel would undertake not to raise them before 2015, thus facilitating the process of harmonising excise duty rates.

Mr President, Commissioner, I should like to emphasise that reaching a compromise was no easy task. It called for concessions and a display of good will on the part of all those who participated in discussions within the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. I should like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Schmidt for his hard work on this compromise and congratulate him on the successful outcome. Clearly this compromise does not fully satisfy everyone involved, but it does represent an attempt to reconcile a range of aims and points of view. It also represents a step forward along the way to reducing differences in rates of excise duty within the Union. I call on the Members of the House to support this compromise and adopt the Schmidt report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dariusz Maciej Grabowski, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, the President-in-Office of the European Union and the Commissioners tend to begin their interventions with declarations on the protection and support of economic freedoms, freedom of competition and SMEs. The transition from declarations to details generally involves reports similar to the one we are debating today, however.

The report proposes imposing a single rate of excise duty on all Member States and harmonisation of prices, on the pretext of making things more straightforward, easier and fairer. This is taking place against the background of a premise considered a priori to be correct, namely that the best solution for the Member States of the European Union is a single tax system, a single monetary system, a single system for certification and marketing, a single regulatory production limits system and so on.

The proposal states that there are no differences in the cost of fuel supply within the Union, regardless of distance from sources of supply or labour costs. All this is simply untrue. I should like to pose the question as to what economic freedom and freedom of competition within the European Union actually mean. Should we not be referring instead to economic compulsion and force? Is it not the case that a single fuel price eliminating all competition is the ideal solution for multinational fuel enterprises to the detriment of consumers and small enterprises? Is it not the case that a single fuel price favours highly developed countries over less developed ones? Finally, if the Union adopts the aforementioned report, harmonising fuel prices under the slogan of unshackling enterprises and countries, will this not amount in fact to shackling them anew by way of taxation? Worse, will it not simultaneously drive them barefoot into poverty? We shall be voting against the report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Cornelis Visser (PPE-DE). – (NL) Mr President, this is the first time that I have spoken in plenary. I hope to be able to represent the interests of the Dutch citizens of Europe here both now and in the future.

There was much negotiation before the drafting of this in-depth report by Mr Schmidt. I am glad that the rapporteur and the other groups have finally reached this compromise. The Commission proposal seeks to raise the excise tariffs in stages and so reduce the difference between the Member States.

The environmental argument has a role to play, but I believe that the increase in fuel prices is already a sufficiently motivating factor. Moreover, the Commission uses distortion of competition as an argument for raising the minimum excise rate on diesel for professional use. I am astonished that fuel tourism is used as an argument for raising the minimum excise on diesel for professional use, as this argument is excessively strong. Fuel tourism is a marginal phenomenon in the transport industry, with little influence on mutual competitive positions and the functioning of the internal market.

The Commission proposes a sharp increase in the minimum rate, to 380 euro per 1 000 litres. I believe that such an increase in conjunction with the already extremely high fuel prices will have too great an impact on the consumer’s purse and on inflation. The EP’s committee eventually settled on an increase to 359 euro per 1 000 litres by 1 January 2015. The Netherlands is already over this target.

There is one more thing. The transport sector is rightly complaining that the steadily increasing excise is driving fuel prices steeply upwards. The Commission proposal on the harmonisation of diesel excise has no upper limit. Differences would thus continue to exist. Parliament believes that the Member States must freeze the excise tariff on diesel at 400 euro per 1 000 litres until 1 January 2015.

Finally, I hope that when the finance ministers make their decision they will give priority to the interests of the consumer as regards purchasing power and limiting inflation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Elisa Ferreira (PSE).(PT) Mr President, Commissioner, this report deals with a highly sensitive matter of European economic policy, namely taxation, as it covers special taxes on petrol and gas oil used in commercial transport. These taxes are an important source of tax revenue for many Member States. However, the lack of viable alternatives for fuelling the commercial goods transport fleet means that fuel prices are a strategic factor in the competitiveness of many countries.

The recognition of Member States’ freedom to impose special consumption taxes is not in doubt. However, as these taxes directly affect the prices of goods sold, excessive differences have a direct impact on the functioning of the internal market. As has already been mentioned, they also lead to cross-border movements and environmental impacts caused by these movements.

The compromise reached in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs is truly a compromise and I should like, in that regard, to praise the work of all the shadow rapporteurs, and in particular the main rapporteur, Mr Schmidt. I cannot ignore the fact that some would like the minimum level to more clearly reflect our prevailing environmental concerns. However, I personally doubt that, given the current level of oil prices, the reinforcement of this kind of message by means of taxation is necessary. The choice has therefore been made to bring the minimum and maximum levels of taxation closer, which, by partly sacrificing these environmental concerns in the opinion of some people, will allow the distortions of competition due to taxation to be reduced. A major effort has been made and we hope that this will receive due recognition from the Commission and the Council and that it will allow further progress to be made on taxation within the European Union.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Astrid Lulling (PPE-DE). (FR) Mr President, if Mrs Kauppi does not arrive she is allowing me to use her two minutes, since she is hosting an important dinner-debate.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the report by our Liberal colleague Olle Schmidt relates to a new confrontation between the House and the European Commission, which has proposed an unjustifiable increase in indirect taxes. This proposal was made by a Commissioner that I feel has completely lost touch with economic reality. Mr Kovács suggests a considerable increase in the minimum rates for unleaded petrol and gas oil. In view of the record inflation, a cause of great concern to the European Central Bank, and the economic downturn we are currently witnessing, it seems to me that this is a particularly bad time to increase the excise duty rate on gas oil and fuel oil.

Personally, I must say that I would simply have rejected this uninspiring proposal by the Commission, but majority situations being what they are in the House I was unable to do so. I support the compromise reached by the EP’s main political groups as I feel it constitutes an exercise in damage limitation.

The gradual increase of minimum rates for diesel to 359 euro for 1 000 litres until 2015 and a freeze on minimum rates for the same amount of unleaded petrol, as stipulated in the compromise, are clearly below the levels proposed by the Commission. The Commission was, in fact, suggesting 380 euro for both diesel and unleaded petrol by 2014. The rapporteur wanted to go even further in his report and was seeking minimum levels of 400 euro. I welcome the willingness to compromise on the part of our rapporteur, who brought the rates down during the discussions on his report in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs.

The real meat of this report is to be found in Amendment 19, in my opinion. Here we require the Member States, now applying exorbitant excise duty of over 400 euro for 1 000 litres of diesel and 500 euro for 1 000 litres of unleaded petrol, not to increase these rates any further until 2015. Therefore, without going so far as to introduce maximum rates in the proposal, for the Commission has never had the courage to propose these, we are at the very least expressing the desire for price alignment.

Mr President, there is only one way to ensure harmonisation of excise duty rates in Europe: introducing maximum and minimum rates at the same time. It serves no purpose to continue to increase minimum rates and make no effort to curtail the enthusiasm of the Member States that insist on applying extremely high rates.

Finally, if you will allow me, Mr President, I would like to make a point of order. I want to ask the Commissioner, who claimed we support his proposal, whether he lives on another planet, because we do not in fact support his proposal.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Margaritis Schinas (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, now that inflation in the euro area is at its highest historical point and the price of oil has reached USD 110 dollars a barrel, the European Parliament will tomorrow raise indirect tax on fuel. If this is not a joke, it is certainly aimed at making the readers of Friday’s papers smile. I think that we are sending the wrong message at the wrong time. We are demonstrating that we do not understand how society operates.

Furthermore, my delegation will not support the compromise; we are opposed to the bully-boy tactics of six Member States that already have high taxation, forcing all the others, through the Commissioner, Mr Kovács, to raise prices on the pretext of petrol tourism. I cannot justify that to my voters. Instead of carrying out such experiments, let us turn to other policies that benefit the environment. We must avoid such tax-raising acrobatics.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Atanas Paparizov (PSE). – (BG) My country has made great efforts to increase the excise tax over the recent years and the taxes rates for lead-free gasolene have grown from EUR 254 in 2004 to EUR 350, while those for diesel fuel from EUR 203 to EUR 307 respectively. We have been guided by the willingness to rapidly increase tax rates so that to reduce the inflationary effect in the years to come.

The new proposal of the Commission puts our strategy to question. Therefore the proposal put forward in the report of the Economic Committee sounds reasonable and penalizes countries like Bulgaria and Romania to a less extent.

I hope that the Commission will accept this compromise, although even this proposal generates a serious effort for the Bulgarian economy and it would be an inflationary factor, without producing any effect for the environment because gasolene and fuel oil are not elastic products and they depend on many other economic factors rather than excise taxes.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ivo Belet (PPE-DE). – (NL) Very briefly, Commissioner, it seems to me that it would be useful to point out that we need to be cautious in relation to this issue. The public needs to be informed about what is at stake here, because the critics will of course be ready to paint this as a straightforward tax increase, whereas Parliament’s proposal is a very modest measure: a real tax increase would be disastrous at a time when prices are so high.

This proposal, which we will hopefully adopt tomorrow, is a good start towards finally putting an end to the distortion of competition that has existed for many years, particularly in the border regions; it is also good for the environment. Commissioner, Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, my second comment is that we are counting on ourselves, and the European Commission in particular, to continue playing a very proactive role in the development and promotion of environmentally-friendly fuels, in other words implementing policies that will help us to get rid of fossil fuels, petrol and diesel.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, I should like to draw attention to three issues. Firstly, it seems that the price of oil will not fall below USD 100 per barrel in the future, which will result in a continuous rise in the price of fuel. It is only thanks to the weakness of the American dollar that drastic rises in fuel prices in Europe have been avoided. We cannot, however, expect the United States to wish its currency to be weak forever. In the light of this situation, the proposal to increase excise duty rates in the European Union over the coming years seems to take no account whatsoever of economic reality.

Secondly, per capita GDP in the new Member States is lower than in the older ones, as is the level of personal income. It will therefore only be possible for the new Member States to harmonise the tax burden once a comparable level of personal income has been attained.

Finally, pursuant to the principle of subsidiarity, the Member States should enjoy greater freedom as regards reducing the tax burden on fuels that are not derived from oil. Such measures would stimulate interest in the use of renewable fuels. They would also help us to reduce CO2 emissions and to fulfil our international obligations regarding environmental protection.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Claude Turmes (Verts/ALE). – (FR) Mr President, I only wish to take the floor briefly to point out that not all Members from Luxembourg are not all cheap petrol junkies. I think that Mr Belet has set things out very well. We must find a compromise with the policies on the problems concerning oil resources and climate change, and strike a balance between the countries and the regions too.

I would just like to inform you that on Tuesday the Luxembourg Parliament debated climate change, and it held a discussion on petrol pump tourism. The vast majority of Members of the Luxembourg Parliament, including members of Mrs Lulling’s own party, agree that this phenomenon must stopped locally at least. I thus merely wish to say that Luxembourg as a whole has a completely different stance to that of Mrs Lulling, who represents a minority on this issue, and a very small minority at that.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, it would appear that a single market, along with free movement of goods and services equates to full competitiveness. This is not quite the case, though, as the cost of the means of production, which includes the cost of fuel, has a significant impact on the profitability of production. In fact, at present the taxes on fuel differ even between neighbouring countries, giving rise to so-called fuel tourism in border regions. This activity is not very widespread, however.

It appears reasonable to approximate the rates of excise duty, but the process should be slow and be spread over many stages. Harmonisation of the minimum excise duty rates for diesel fuel and unleaded petrol should also be staggered. We should be guided by the general principle of striving to ensure that taxes and excise duties on fuel are kept as low as possible, to avoid driving up inflation and production costs and increasing household expenditure. This is particularly relevant in relation to the new Member States, where earnings are significantly lower.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, first of all I would like to thank you for the comments and views expressed during the debate.

Obtaining a positive opinion from Parliament on the Commission’s proposal for special tax arrangements for commercial diesel is very important. However, we have taken note that your report is less ambitious compared to the Commission proposal, in particular by not endorsing the revalorisation of the overall minimum tax levels applicable to diesel and unleaded petrol.

I have not lost sight of economic rationale. On the contrary: economic rationale speaks against the extra millions of kilometres and also the extra tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases which are the result of fuel tourism. I have to take into consideration – and we all have to take into consideration – the growing threat of what climate change and global warming mean for mankind. This threat is even much more alarming than inflation. As far as the proposed increase of excise duty is concerned, it will not generate inflation. It will just keep up with the expected inflation of 2.2% a year until 2017.

While the Commission can accept Amendment 1 in part and Amendments 7 and 27 in principle, we have to formally reject the other amendments. The Commission will not formally amend this proposal. We will, however, endeavour to take the amendments suggested by Parliament into consideration as much as possible during deliberations in the Council. A positive opinion from Parliament will be an important signal of the increasing awareness of the growing negative impact on the environment of transport, which we have to address through fuel taxation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Olle Schmidt, rapporteur. − (SV) Mr President, thank you for your kind words. I think that thanks are also due to the Commission and our committee secretariat.

I thought at first that the Commissioner did not seem really to accept the committee’s views. I can understand that on formal grounds. Now, when I heard the Commission again, I thought I detected an understanding of the notion that politics is politics. I recognise that we could have been more ambitious. The Commissioner uses the phrase ‘less ambitious’. Yes, but listen to this debate from left to right and upwards and downwards. All points of view were expressed, and then we had Mrs Lulling sitting in the middle. Commissioner, it is on the basis of political reality, as you are indeed aware, that we had to formulate a report and a proposal which will land on your desk. Now a report from the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs will arrive, let us hope tomorrow, which will not go entirely your way and which you cannot accept in all respects, but it will be a report.

Finally, I would like to say to the Commissioner that I nevertheless believe we have made progress – if we get a positive result tomorrow – in ending the confrontation which has taken place on these matters between the committee, Parliament and the Commission, and the Council too. Just as you say, we need to take action on fuel tourism for the sake of the internal market. That is quite correct, but we must also prepare drastic and forceful measures for the environment. There must be an understanding of such measures throughout our Union, and I believe that we have succeeded in finding the right balance.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Astrid Lulling (PPE-DE). (FR) Mr President, I wish to ask for the floor on a personal matter. Mr Turmes called me a junkie. I feel this is an insult to me and I call on him to withdraw his remark.

In relation to the matter in hand, I can firmly state that my party and my government fully support the compromise proposed by our rapporteur, to which I made a substantial contribution. Mr Turmes, moreover, seems to forget that gas oil is currently less expensive in Belgium than in Luxembourg and that any petrol pump tourists there may be are not heading for Luxembourg, but for Belgium at this point in time.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − Very well. We note what Mrs Lulling has said, and I am sure that the statements made in this House will be clarified.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 13 March 2008.

 

18. Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0006/2008) by Claude Turmes, on behalf of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, on the Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund [2007/2188(INI)].

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Claude Turmes, rapporteur. − (DE) Mr President, Martin Luther King had a dream. He dreamt of a society where the colour of your skin did not lead to discrimination. It was a dream that revolutionised America and the world. Today Europe has a dream, or rather a vision: to develop the energies of the future, not only in Europe but also beyond Europe, the vision of renewable energies playing a major role by the middle of this century, helping to avoid conflicts over the remaining oil and gas resources, mitigating climate change and ensuring that billions of people across the world have access to the energy that is out of their reach today.

I think that the Commission, represented today by its environmental conscience, Mr Dimas, has every reason to be proud of this Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund (GEEREF). It is our assumption that within four or five years there will be EUR 500 million in this Fund, making it the world's largest fund for investment in renewables and energy efficiency.

These EUR 500 million will come in part from the public purse, with around EUR 80 to 150 million from the European budget, but also from the national governments' budgets. We have specific commitments currently from Germany and also from Norway.

What will this Fund achieve? The financial analysts who look in detail at flows of investment into individual renewable energy and energy efficiency projects have observed that it is difficult to attract risk capital for investments of less than EUR 10 million. This Fund will be geared particularly to these medium-sized projects up to EUR 10 million.

It will therefore be a 'fund of funds', which means that this Fund will not invest directly in wind farms in Morocco or solar energy systems in China, but will acquire shares in investment funds in Southern Africa, in Central Africa, in China, in Russia or in South America. The public purse will determine politically where the funding will go.

It will be attractive for private investors because the public purse will in effect cover all the investment risk, so that the returns on the investments – if these investments yield any returns, that is – will go first to private investors and only in the second phase will they go back into the public purse, and that of course provides a great deal of security for private investors.

We as parliamentarians have raised four or five points relating to this Fund. The first is also a specific question to Commissioner Dimas. At a time when biofuels are an extremely controversial issue, we as parliamentarians have taken the view that we must apply very strict criteria for any biomass or biofuel project investment from the Fund. It is not just that the environmental balance could be problematical; it would also pose an image problem for the Fund if its reputation were to be damaged by such investment. Once again, then, Commissioner, can you guarantee that the Commission will do its best to apply the strict criteria that are required?

The second issue of importance to us as parliamentarians – and I think this is especially true of those of us who are concerned with development – is that we want this Fund to make a significant contribution to overcoming energy poverty. We therefore need to apply the know-how of microfinancing institutions such as the Grameen Bank and others that are already implementing projects for the poorest of the poor, such as solar collectors or PV systems. We must involve these microfinancing institutions. My second question to you, Commissioner, is this: is the Commission willing, as the major public donor, to ensure that 20-25% of the funding will genuinely be utilised for this type of microproject through microfinancing arrangements?

Thirdly, we were afraid that if investing in China is becoming so easy, all the funding from GEEREF would flow in that direction. What we want, however, is a good geographical spread of investment and so we need the Commission's political commitment that funds will be provided for investment in countries in Africa, the Caribbean and South America as well.

As Parliament, we need stringent monitoring and evaluation with regular reports to this House and its Committee on Budgets and Committee on Budgetary Control, because we want to increase this Fund if possible over the next few years: to do that, we of course need the confidence of this House in the workings of the Fund.

Those are my initial comments, and I look forward to the debate with my fellow Members.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission. − (EL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, over a year has passed since the publication of the Communication from the Commission ‘Mobilising public and private finance towards global access to climate-friendly, affordable and secure energy services: the Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund’ (known as GEEREF).

Since then, there have been many developments, such as the Bali Agreement last December. As a result, this initiative now appears more important and timely. It is, then, the right moment to debate this report, and I note with satisfaction that the European Parliament is particularly positive about this new and innovative means of supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Allow me, first of all, to explain why the Commission has proposed to use public subsidies in the global fund of business risk capital, even though Mr Turmes has already indicated the main points leading us to this decision and has also asked some questions. In fact, despite the continual progress observed in the utilisation of renewable energy sources, the total worldwide share of energy sources that they represent remains low.

It is also well known that improving energy efficiency can offer greater gains than setting up a new energy infrastructure. Nevertheless, with the investments being made worldwide in the energy efficiency sector, existing opportunities for improvement are not being fully utilised. The significant difficulties in finding private funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects are thus a major problem.

The reasons are complex and relate mainly to the lack of business risk capital. Business risk capital is required in developing countries, and in transitional economies it is estimated to amount to more than EUR 9 billion a year. This is much higher than the amount currently available. Although public subsidies have been increased in recent years, the total amount available is insufficient. Additional capital must be found; it is required in the energy sector until 2030. As a result, the search for private sector funding is vital.

However, the many years required for the repayment of investments in clean technologies hinder investors, especially in geographical regions deemed to be high-risk. For example, private investments in sub-Saharan Africa are very low; this is precisely why one of the objectives of GEEREF is to encourage investments in these regions. The amount to which Mr Turmes has referred is indicative, as it is a minimum to be invested in these regions.

A second problem that Mr Turmes has referred to is the scale of projects. For small-scale projects in remote countries, administrative and execution costs may be higher. As a result, international funding bodies are not prepared to fund such projects, particularly if their value is below EUR 10 million, as you have said.

This is precisely the aim of GEEREF: to overcome such obstacles in the way of small-scale investments. We will focus our efforts on projects such as these. The fund will attract private investors by using public resources to protect them from the risks I referred to earlier. To enable GEEREF to get up and running, the European Commission will commit approximately EUR 80 million from the current year until 2010. As you said earlier, with the additional commitments by the governments of Germany and Norway, we have exceeded EUR 100 million. We expect that additional business risk capital will be drawn from the private sector, amounting to at least EUR 300-500 million, or perhaps as much as EUR 1 billion, in the slightly longer term.

Mr President, I am pleased that in this report the European Parliament is supporting the creation of the Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund. I should like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Turmes, for his efforts, as well as Mr Wijkman and Mrs Korhola from the Committee on Development and the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety respectively, for their contributions. I think that this is an important and timely initiative that demonstrates that the EU is taking action and is determined to help developing countries to gain access to energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

The fundamental prerequisite for the funding of projects – and not only those connected with biomass or biofuels – will undoubtedly be respect for sustainability criteria, which will not be any less stringent than those laid down in various EU legislation. This will strengthen the relationship of trust that we need to establish with these countries, especially with a view to the global climate change agreement, which should be concluded by the end of 2009.

(Applause)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: Edward McMILLAN-SCOTT
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Eija-Riitta Korhola, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. − (FI) Mr President, climate and energy issues have rapidly become crucially important in almost every area of European Union policy. The call for the increased use of renewable energy is a topical one right now, not least on account of the qualitative targets which have now been decided for renewable energy.

This fund is a shining example and one that inspires hope. The issue is not always self-evident, however. Something which is politically trendy can become a litmus test for political correctness, and the situation can result in a race to see who is keenest to be on the side of everything that is good. That is how things seem to have gone recently with the target announced for renewable energy. The proposal also has elements of overkill, and the timetable set has obvious risks.

When the genuine technological potential is still lacking, there is a danger that a binding target will be realised in a way that irrevocably destroys natural values. Not all biofuels are a benefit to the environment and not all renewable forms of energy reduce emissions, as Mr Turmes quite rightly stated just now.

There is a need for renewable energy, but the issue should be approached wisely. The Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund now under discussion is a splendid example of how something good can be encouraged in a way which produces a diverse range of benefits.

There is an old saying about not just giving fish to the hungry but also teaching them how to fish. This applies to the funding of local projects, so that know-how and skills are improved and retained in third countries. This is the way to make projects sustainable and able to continue.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Romana Jordan Cizelj, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (SL) Climate change mitigation and energy are two important components of the European Union’s development policy. And so they should be. I am pleased with any initiative that may help a secure and sustainable energy supply, not only in Europe but also in third countries. Allow me to express some doubts, which we have to dispel before we set up this fund.

Firstly, the number of initiatives in the area of energy and development policies is growing steadily. Sadly, the desired results are relatively rarely achieved. The initiatives in the shape of various funds are not mutually harmonised and, above all, they rarely finance individual projects directly. The latter also applies to the fund under discussion, which should operate via the setting-up and financing of regional sub-funds in developing countries. We should consider how it will affect the transparency of the use of resources, and to what extent the institutional conditions in developing countries will facilitate their intended use.

Secondly, only timely actions can be effective. In the case of the proposed world fund, appropriate timing is not in evidence. The proposal was made in 2006 and we are debating it only this year.

Thirdly, I would like to stress the fact cited in the document itself: the resources intended for the fund are not sufficient. Not even the minimum sum envisaged for successful operation of the fund has been secured. That will hardly help to stimulate investment by the private sector.

Fourthly, I find it difficult to imagine that the fund can be operated effectively merely by cooperation between the Union and international financial institutions. Our proposal lacks a clear ambition and plan for cooperation with other industrialised countries in the world and internationalisation of the world fund.

As was said before, the idea is welcome, but its added value and actual realisation have yet to be thought through.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Matthias Groote, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, first of all I would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Turmes, on his good work and his commitment. The Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund is an active contribution from Europe to combating climate change.

As shadow rapporteur in the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, I would like to address two points. Firstly, it is important to ensure that sustainability has absolute priority in the context of the projects to be supported by the Fund. Greenhouse gas emissions must be analysed across the entire lifecycle and no funding should be provided to projects with an unsatisfactory record on CO2 emissions. This analysis is particularly important for projects that have a biomass component.

Secondly, I am an optimist, so I assume that the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next year will be successful and we will be able to take the next step towards a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol. The use of renewable energies will then play an important role for the developing countries. The Commission must take account of that factor today and adapt the Fund accordingly.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Fiona Hall, on behalf of the ALDE Group . – Mr President, the Commission proposal for a Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund (GEEREF) is, of course, welcome. It is vital that energy efficiency and renewable energy play an increasing role in developing and emerging countries for a wide range of reasons – lowering carbon dioxide emissions, cutting energy supply dependence, tackling energy poverty and creating jobs and development opportunities – indeed, for all the same reasons that it is vital that energy efficiency and renewable energy play an increasing role here in the EU.

But I have a number of concerns about the Commission proposal. Firstly, the funding proposed is extremely modest for the scale of the project. EUR 15 million a year of public funding is peanuts – even as a seed capital intended to attract and underwrite private investment. It could easily be swallowed up by just a couple of projects in the larger, emerging countries such as China or India. Although the Commission communication speaks about the possibility of attracting co-financing from the 9th European Development Fund (EDF), it is not all clear how decisions will be made on allocating the budget between the ACP countries, on the one hand, and the more developed and advanced non-EU eastern European countries supported by co-financing from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). As a result, it is not all clear how the fund will contribute to poverty reduction. It seems to be rather a macro-fund than a micro-fund, designed to attract private finance in support of projects which, though they are relatively small by European standards, would be large in terms of many African countries. It is not clear how GEEREF financing is going to filter down to Community-level projects such as PV panels for health centres and schools or solar cookers and water heaters. It is grass-root development which generally does the most to improve the lives of the poorest people.

Finally, I am concerned that the relationship between the fund and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has not been clearly explained. It would be helpful if the Commission could indicate how the fund is going to improve developing country access to the CDM.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Esko Seppänen, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (FI) Mr President, the report by Mr Turmes concerns a very ambitious target for developing countries to use their energy resources efficiently. These countries are frequently in geographical regions where it is possible to exploit cheap natural renewable energy resources.

There can also be progress in development without massive investment in the latest technology. For example, the production of charcoal from the meagre reserves of wood in those areas of Sub-Saharan Africa which are becoming desert is a more cost-effective way of using wood resources than simply burning it. They have to know how to char wood before burning it. You do not need a lot of money to teach skills like this and others. The principles upon which the GEEREF operates I interpret as such that it will not be possible to obtain money from the fund just to disseminate skills and knowledge, but of course other forms of development aid can be used for this purpose.

The funding of projects through equity investments is an interesting option. What is good about this from the point of view of those in receipt of the cash and those who spend it is that it does not add to the indebtedness of countries already in debt. The question arises, however, of how expensive it will be to manage this investment and monitor the ability of small companies to pay the money back.

This fund could, in the best-case scenario, prepare developing countries for slower growth in the use of fossil fuels. Our group is fully unanimous in its approval of Mr Turmes’s report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, many thanks to you, Claude. You held a great many meetings on this topic. It is a very complex issue and I would like to thank you particularly for being so consistently transparent throughout these negotiations and for making it possible for us to look at the project from a holistic perspective.

The challenge worldwide nowadays is to think about efficiency, in energy consumption, but also in production. However, this cannot only apply to the macro level; we must always be guided by the maxim 'think small first': look at the micro level first, and if it works there, it will work at the macro level too.

We must focus on ensuring that we apply the best available technology that exists globally. This can be simple, clearly structured technology; it does not need to be electronics and nanotechnology. We have to try and make this technology financially accessible, as far as possible, so that everyone can afford to use it.

On the other hand, of course, we also have to penalise those who squander our Earth's resources. This is a major challenge for our Commissioner as well, to look at the global structures: punishing those who waste energy and rewarding those who operate using the best and most efficient technologies. This is a core principle in climate policy as well.

Studies in the European Union show that the costs of climate change will run into billions and billions of euro. That is why it is essential not only to do something for countries outside Europe; the Council should also be thinking about providing new funding for research and development in the field of energy efficiency, especially in the new European Institute of Technology.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (ALDE). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, thank you for your contribution. The European Parliament welcomes this Fund. Commissioner Dimas, you have launched the right kind of initiative at the right time.

If, as Europeans, we are committed to cutting CO2 emissions, it does not matter where CO2 is emitted. CO2 emissions must be reduced all over the world, and that is why we have to apply the new technologies everywhere.

However, I see this Fund as being not only a development instrument but also a strategic instrument. It is not just about providing development aid. Rather, Europeans must not only be trailblazers when it comes to the issue of climate change; we must also encourage others to join us on our journey. They must be able to follow the route we have taken. That is where I think this Fund can make a crucial contribution. If we set overly ambitious targets and end up isolated and alone, this will spell the end for our industrial base as well. That is why there is a need for global governance here. Bali was a good approach and Copenhagen will be another. However, in a global governance system, it is not only about power play; we must creative incentive systems and I believe that this Fund creates the right kind of incentive.

Claude Turmes referred at the start of his speech to Martin Luther King's dream. As Europeans, we can only make our dream of saving the climate a reality if we pursue this path consistently. Claude Turmes, you will secure a very substantial majority in favour of this report tomorrow and I would like to congratulate you here and now on that achievement. I am very pleased for you.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – (RO) The European efficiency and renewable energy fund is an innovative solution to maximise the efficiency of public funds used in the field of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources by mobilising private investments.

This fund is a public-private partnership, dedicated to financing the specific projects proposed by SMEs, whose value does not exceed 10 million euro. The initial costs for renewable energy projects are 37 times higher than those of conventional energy sources and that is why we regret the fact that for the time being the foreseen fund value is only 100 million euro.

In 2005 the Union relied 50% on energy imports and among the Members States only Denmark is a net exporter. Over the period 1995-2005 the use of renewable energy sources increased by 40% in the Union. Thus, in 2005, unpolluted energy sources represented 42% of the European primary energy production.

The effective use of this fund could supply energy to a number of citizens ranging from 1 to 3 million , at the same time reducing CO2 emissions by 1-2 million tons per year. Congratulations to the rapporteur.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Teresa Riera Madurell (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, I would like to begin by congratulating Mr Turmes on his report and the Commission on its initiative.

Many of us believe that the European Union must consider support for renewable energies and energy efficiency as not just an integral part of its energy and climate change strategy, but also an integral part of its development policy.

Therefore, the proposal to create a Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund to mobilise private investment for developing countries and economies in transition is very interesting.

What is needed for ideal modest financing is the establishment of priorities and synergies with other existing programmes and with the World Bank and regional development banks, which are increasingly investing in renewable energies and in energy efficiency.

However, after the first few years of implementation of the new instrument the results will have to be assessed and efforts made to encourage substantial increases in the contributions from the actors concerned.

I agree that everything suggests at present that the support should principally target Africa and Latin America.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jerzy Buzek (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to thank the Commissioner and our rapporteur for a splendid draft, which I fully support. It amounts to a very good signal on the part of the European Union. I refer to the willingness to support developing countries, and also to combat climate change. I do, however, have the following question for the Commissioner. How does the Commission intend to prevent deforestation, which is often linked to the production of biomass and biofuels in developing countries? Moreover, is the Commission keeping a suitable distance from the production of first generation biomass and biofuels, as it is well know that this is not the a particularly safe matter?

I would like to offer my strong support for the statement by Mr Chatzimarkakis. The European Union has to send out a signal of this type. We are responsible for the conferences on climate change due to take place in Poznań and Copenhagen in the near future, and for the success of the post-Kyoto negotiations. We are also responsible for sending out the right signals to the rest of the world. This programme represents just such a signal.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, I should like to draw attention to three issues. It is entirely appropriate for the author of the report to point out that the most serious consequences of climate change are felt in the poorest countries. This is because the latter only have very limited resources, especially financial ones, with which to respond to climate change.

Secondly, in the light of what I have just mentioned, it is right to support the Commission’s proposal to set up a Fund, even though the EUR 80 million suggested is a meagre amount. Nonetheless, as this Fund is intended to help leverage private sector investment to finance local projects, it may prove very effective indeed.

Thirdly, I should like to take this opportunity to point out that the burden of combating climate change is not being shared at all fairly within the European Union itself. For example, the CO2 emission limits were allocated to the various countries without taking sufficient account of how far the latter might be lagging behind in terms of development. As a result, countries such as Poland were allocated very low limits, and this led almost immediately to a rise of between 10% and 20% in the cost of electricity.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, the main purpose of this Fund is to encourage private investment and the support of regional funds for the poorest and least developed countries in the world. The Fund is intended to support energy efficiency, energy saving, the development of renewable energy and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It is also intended to help improve access to basic energy services. The Union’s action in this field should assist poorer regions to counter climate change and to diversify their sources of energy.

We should bear in mind that the effects of climate change are felt first of all by the poorest inhabitants of this planet. It would be wrong for us to limit action to counter climate change and reduce energy consumption to our area only. Making aid available for such action available to poorer countries will help to launch relevant activities on their territory. The aid will have a significant impact and will raise awareness of the importance of these problems. This is the right initiative at the right time.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ewa Tomaszewska (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, I just wanted to point out that, amongst renewable sources of energy, we have not paid much attention to geothermal sources, that is to say, to clean energy. Making use of existing boreholes sunk for geological research purposes could reduce the cost involved.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, of course geothermal energy is covered. We are very much interested in geothermal energy, as well as in other renewable sources of energy.

Concerning Poland and the allocation of allowances: for the first trading period, they had plenty, far more than were necessary for the needs of energy and industry, and this over-allocation caused the problem with the allowances price. For the second trading period we consider that the allowances given to Poland are again quite enough to cover the needs of Polish industry. For the third trading period there is a new system, which will be based on what industry or the energy plants require to cover their needs, involving auctioning to the extent that we shall agree.

Concerning deforestation, of course it is a great issue and linked both to biodiversity and climate change – equally important. Tackling deforestation contributes both to halting of the loss of biodiversity and fighting climate change, so it is very important. However, deforestation projects have a peculiarity: they are very difficult. Nevertheless, it is one of the first priorities that we have to tackle, not only by means of this fund but by various other measures, especially by agreeing what incentives we should link with the various approaches to tackling deforestation, for example reducing the rate of deforestation and maintaining forests or any other approach that is being promoted by various countries. We are working on this, especially with the World Bank, and there will be some pilot projects. So, there are various sources of financing for various purposes.

I would like first of all to express my appreciation for the very good and positive contributions and I can assure you that your suggestions and comments will be taken into account in our work. They are very useful and they touch on various important issues.

I am not going to answer now, for example, about the importance of CDM projects for sub-Saharan Africa. I would just remind you that in 2006 in Nairobi we had the initiative by Kofi Annan, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, for promoting CDM projects in sub-Saharan Africa. We, like the United Nations, are committed to carrying out more projects there and not concentrating only on projects in China and India. So your comment is very important, but of course the relation between this fund and CDMs could be seen and could be of importance.

I have three additional comments to make. First, you call for a special emphasis on serving the needs of sub-Saharan and ACP countries. Of course we are concerned that projects in major countries like China and Russia will absorb all or too high a percentage of the available resources. This has happened with CDMs, by the way, and so your comment is right. The GEEREF will engage in existing investment opportunities but we agree that special emphasis is needed on serving the needs of ACP countries. We will also ensure that any subfund which only covers one country will not be allowed to absorb all or most of the available resources. The GEEREF needs to be spread to different parts of the world, also with a view to spreading the investment risk, and Mr Turmes’s suggestion about the percentage is very correct.

Second, let me come back to the poverty dimension, which is obviously fundamental. As you mentioned today, some 1.6 billion people in the poorer countries of the world still have no regular access to reliable energy services. I believe that with the GEEREF we have an opportunity to contribute to access to clean and affordable energy, a necessary prerequisite for reducing global poverty and promoting sustainable development.

Third and finally, you welcome the Fund’s focus on leveraging private investments – although you mentioned that the funds are not enough; I think that funds are never enough – and you call for more Member States to offer additional financial support. Of course I fully support and agree with what you suggested, and the Commission is working and will continue to work to attract more investors to join.

On this aspect, I would also like to ask for your support in promoting the GEEREF to all relevant actors. The more support we have, the more real actions on the ground we will be able to conduct.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Claude Turmes, rapporteur. − Mr President, this will be a fund potentially of EUR 500 million, because it has a leverage factor of 3 to 5 on the private capital. The EUR 100 million, EUR 120 million or EUR 150 million of public money will be able to leverage – at least we hope – another EUR 300 million or EUR 400 million to make EUR 500 million. And we still have governments which can jump on board. If we have good monitoring, then Parliament will allow the Commission to go up.

Ms Jordan Cizelj raised a very important question: how prepared are certain regions of the world for investments? We in Parliament have voted an additional EUR 5 million from another budget line for institutional capacity building to frame this programme. So we need to build up small and medium-sized enterprises in African countries and in India, which will then develop business models. We have to learn from earlier errors in development policy where we just granted technology without considering that we also have to inform people about this technology. I am saying this in front of the Development Commissioner and we know that the Development DG is helping to raise the institutional capacities of these countries.

So what we need to do now – and, Commissioner, you are right – is reach out to investors. This Friday in Luxembourg, which is the second-biggest investment centre in the world, there will be a meeting of bankers. We will present to them a SICAV, a vehicle which is based in Luxembourg. I hope that the Commission will design a good communication strategy. Go to the City of London, go to Frankfurt, go to Paris, go to Zurich, because the bankers have to be informed about this vehicle.

Why is this important at this time? At the moment we are still under pressure from the Liechtenstein scandal and the subprime crisis. In several months we have destroyed hundreds of billions of capital. Greening finances may be an even more important task for this planet and policymakers than greening industry. This type of vehicle allows capital to go to the right investments. It may not have as high a return as certain speculative investments but it is a mid- and long-term investment and that is probably exactly what certain pension funds and others are looking for. So this fund also has huge opportunities to bring in institutional investors and that is what we should look for.

Thank you very much for your support for what I call the fan community of a renewable and better world.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − Mr Turmes, may I congratulate you on your excellent English and on your commitment to this subject.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday 14 March.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  John Attard-Montalto (PSE), in writing. The reasons for setting up this fund deserve our praise. The resources being funnelled into this fund are a joke.

The key objectives of the fund should be the promotion of energy efficiency, energy saving and renewable energies, reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases and the improvement of access to energy services in the poorest countries, not to mention diversification of energy sources in the developing world.

Statistics (which are already outdated) indicate that 1.6 billion people do not have access to basic energy services. 2.4 billion people rely on traditional biomass for cooking and heating.

The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2010 USD 241 billion will be needed to be invested into renewable energy generation. Regarding developing countries, the estimate is at least USD 10 billion or EUR 9 billion.

The proposed budget for this fund under discussion is EUR 80 million between 2007 and 2010, with EUR 15 million in 2008 to kick-start the initiative. The figures speak for themselves. These resources are but a drop in the ocean of what is needed. The intentions are good but intentions with meagre funding do not correspond to serious initiatives.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gyula Hegyi (PSE), in writing. (HU) European Union support for distance heating!

I welcome the European Commission’s initiative for a new Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund (GEEREF). Securing our energy supply – and doing so in a manner that does not jeopardise our environmental values, our strategic security or our competitiveness, is one of the biggest challenges of the twenty-first century. The cheapest energy, of course, is energy that we do not use, in other words energy we save. In these energy-lean times, energy conservation is in everyone’s vital interests, whether consumers or larger communities. From a left-wing perspective it must also be emphasised that energy conservation and efficient energy use is a social issue too, given that it is often the poorest people, in particular, that waste the most energy. This is especially true of the new Member States, for example in homes on Hungary’s housing estates, which use more than twice as much energy per square metre as in western Europe. This is why it is important to provide Community resources for the modernisation of eastern Europe’s distance heating systems. Distance heating, in theory, is an energy-saving system and has the advantage of being easy to adapt to renewable energies, while in the case of individual heating this would need to be carried out on a house-by-house basis. Making European Union resources available for distance heating is therefore crucial. In addition, consideration could be given to providing uniform tax concessions across the European Union to facilitate investment in energy conservation and create funds for this purpose.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bogusław Rogalski (UEN), in writing. (PL) Renewable energy and energy efficiency contribute to reducing the rise in average temperatures across the world. As research and reports indicate, it is precisely the poorer societies and the poorest members of the latter that are most seriously affected by the negative consequences of climate change. It is therefore our duty to protect those sections of society in view of their heightened vulnerability in economic terms.

The use of renewable sources of energy contributes, inter alia, to raising environmental standards, for instance by reducing emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. It also helps to increase employment and lower costs. Another key argument in their favour is that they reduce dependence on particular sources of energy, whilst the number of people deprived of basic energy services is increasing. This is particularly important in the context of shaping the economies of developing countries. Most of the latter are experiencing a period of economic growth, and as a result the demand for energy in those areas is high. The development of renewable sources of energy in developing countries is very relevant indeed to the efforts aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring security of supply in countries that are only able to meet part of their own energy requirements.

Accordingly, the Union should support renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency, especially in developing countries, because these are particularly important features of the strategy on energy and climate change and also of development policy.

 

19. The particular situation of women in prison and the impact of the imprisonment of parents on social and family life (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. − The next item is the report by Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou, on behalf of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, on the particular situation of women in prison and the impact of the imprisonment of parents on social and family life (A6-0033/2008).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou, rapporteur. − (EL) Mr President, the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, which is presenting this own-initiative report, has invested both effort and material expenditure in the issue: the members of our committee not only worked on this report, but also presented a voluminous report on the situation of women in prisons in Europe. At a hearing we listened to leading scientists and civil society representatives speak on the subject. The offices of the European Parliament have so far given us some interesting presentations on the subject. These highlight Parliament’s work on the protection of human rights and the safeguarding of the particular rights of women having to live in the difficult circumstances of imprisonment. Female prisoners belong to a special category; they probably represent a minority of the total number of prisoners in Europe, on average only 5%. Of course, the figure fluctuates between 7% and 0%.

The report seems to me to examine the situation of women prisoners quite thoroughly, since every possible case is covered. It looks at special and general health care needs, including the specific problems of hygiene and the special demands of the female psyche; handling problems arising from women prisoners’ past histories; the special situation of mothers – indeed, statistics show that half of those detained in Europe have under-age children; special conditions during pregnancy; the birth of children in prison and the protection of children during their first years of life when they have to live with their mothers in prison. This is why we feel empowered to ask Member States, with the help of the EU, to establish appropriate material conditions to ensure that institutes provide decent detention facilities, as laid down by international and European rules and treaties. Legislation should be able to be modernised to make sentences appropriate to the special circumstances of mothers; regular staff should be regularly monitored and specially trained so that they are sensitive to women’s issues. Detention conditions for women should be included in the European Commission’s annual report on human rights in the EU.

Today’s report will give rise to a debate that I hope will be fruitful.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. − (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, my colleague Commissioner Špidla is extremely happy that the European Parliament has decided to examine the situation of women in prison and its impact on social and family life, and therefore wishes to congratulate the rapporteur, Mrs Panayotopoulos, on her excellent report.

Even though women account for only a small percentage, around 5%, of Europe's prison population, it is clear that their stay in prison seriously affects the entire family. Moreover, a relatively high percentage of women in prison are mothers.

The Commission promotes policies to combat the exclusion of vulnerable groups, and this therefore includes, in particular, people in custody. It must be stressed, however, that social inclusion is mainly a matter for the Member States. The Commission’s role in terms of social inclusion is basically to help the Member States in their fight against social exclusion, within the context of the open method of coordination and other more specific courses of action. Nevertheless, the new Lisbon Treaty – and this is an interesting point – provides for new initiatives in connection with justice, freedom and security. Within this specific area, of increasing importance, the codecision procedure will apply to many more fields and this will obviously broaden the EP’s power to examine some of the proposals set out in your report. Mrs Panayotopoulos’s report adopts a balanced approach. It fully respects the principle of subsidiarity and acknowledges the Commission's support role, and we completely agree with your methodological approach. We are aware that in order to tackle the challenges faced by imprisoned women, the Member States and the Commission must focus on living conditions in prisons, the essential maintenance of family ties and social relations and, of course, the importance of social and professional reintegration. This approach matches the Commission’s social inclusion strategy, which covers three broad areas: encouraging access to basic services and different possibilities and opportunities, monitoring respect for legislation in the fight against discrimination, and, if necessary, drawing up targeted approaches to meet the specific needs of the various groups.

In the spring of 2006 the Commission organised a public consultation on the need to take other measures at EU level to encourage active inclusion of those farthest rem